On a sunny summer morning, Saturday, July 8, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst led a caravan of 105 motorcyclists from the Loess Hills Harley-Davidson dealership in Pacific Junction, Iowa, on a 40-mile ride south to Hamburg. Their purpose was to raise money for the children of American soldiers in need of support.
Dozens of local residents showed up, as well as people from the surrounding area. Ernst visited with those in attendance, including several veterans, and posed for commemorative pictures.
It was her first visit to Hamburg's Freedom Rock, which was painted in July 2016 by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen and installed in City Park.
“This is beautiful,”  Ernst said. “Bubba Sorensen did a really nice job. And Hamburg's a great town, a great community.”
Ernst had previously been in Hamburg as a National Guard liaison after the Missouri River flooded in 2011.
Darin Thomson, Commander of the Hamburg American Legion, gave a brief introduction to the Freedom Rock. It is number 48 of 99 rocks Sorensen is painting, one for each county in Iowa. He is currently at work on number 62.
Thomson explained the four portraits on the rock, each of which depicts a soldier from Fremont County.
The county is named after Major General John C. Fremont, explorer, politician, and commander of the Department of the West during the Civil War.
World War II naval officer Harold V. Briley of Farragut died when the USS Indianapolis, the ship that delivered the Hiroshima atom bomb to its staging grounds on Tinian Island in the Pacific, was torpedoed by the Japanese and sank on July 30, 1945.
Colonel Karl E. Dankof of Hamburg worked in Cold War intelligence for the Army Air Force during the Vietnam era.
A Sidney native, Staff Sargent Charles J. Hein was a member of Army Special Forces in Vietnam. He saved the lives of the other members of his unit from a live phosphorous grenade, but died two days later of his injuries.
The Loess Hills Harley dealership sponsored the event through its membership in HOG, Harley Owners Group. Funds collected for the ride go to help the non-profit group Our Military Kids (OMK), which supports supports children, age 5 through the 12th grade, of deployed National Guard and Reserve service members and children of wounded warriors from all service branches.
Grants from the organization pay for participation in activities that help children cope with anxiety and stress while their parents are recovering or absent.
Each rider donated $20 in order to participate in the ride. Before departing from Loess Hills Harley, Senator Ernst spoke to the riders about the importance of OMK's work with children of deployed or wounded soldiers.
“It's very stressful having a parent away from home for such a long time and it really helps the children,” she said. “It's stressful too if you have a parent who's been wounded going through treatments.”
Ernst knows firsthand: she was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 and 2004, when her daughter was three years old. “I was blessed to have a really supportive family that was able to engage her in a lot of activities. Not every family is as fortunate as that,” she said.
“Hometown Pride appreciates so much her coming here,” Elaine Howard of Hamburg HP said of Senator Ernst's visit. “We welcomed her with lemonade and water and open arms.”