Freedom Rock

My eye kept being drawn to something colorful under the huge flag at North County Park.

The weather geeks had been promising stormy weather for Saturday, which included 70 mph winds and golfball-sized hail. When the radar started looking nasty, I decided to go mobile to get the car under cover if the hail really did arrive. That gave me an excuse to cruise by the park, but still stay close to my hidey-hole.

Work done by ‘Bubba’ Sorensen II

The Freedom Rock artwork was done by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II on a 32-ton limestone boulder that came from the Buzzi Unicem quarry. He painted his first rock in 1999 in his home state of Iowa. This will be his 59th creation, only the second in Missouri. All but three of the 59 are in Iowa. You can get the whole story in a Southeast Missourian piece by Mark Bliss.

Click on the photos to make them larger.

Back depicts avenue of flags

The back of the stone has a rendition of the veterans’ flags donated by their families and displayed on holidays.

Battleship USS Missouri

The Battleship USS Missouri appears on one end of the stone. It was on the deck of that ship that the Japanese signed the surrender that ended World War II.

Cox and Willard

Prominent Missouri military men are recognized. Maj. Gen. John V. Cox was born and raised in Bevier, Mo., in Macon County. He joined the Marines in 1952, and served two tours in Vietnam, where he flew 200 combat missions, and logged 4,000 accident-free flying hours.

Vice Adm. Arthur L. Willard’s career almost ended before it started when he and 15 other cadets were expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy over a hazing scandal in 1888. Missouri Congressman William M. Hatch interceded with President Grover Cleveland to get him reinstated. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, he led a shore party under fire to raise the American flag over a Spanish blockhouse in Cuba. The Missouri legislature presented him with a jeweled officer’s sword for his efforts. (The New York Herald gave him a $100 prize for being the first U.S. serviceman to raise the American flag on Cuban soil.) He received the Navy Cross for being able to solve logistical problems during World War I.

Gen. McKee was a Cape boy

Gen. Seth J. McKee, graduated from Cape Central High School in 1934, and attended Southeast Missouri State College from 1934 to 1937. At the time of his death at 100 in 2016, he was the oldest survivor of the D-Day invasion of France in World War II. He ended his career as commander of the North American Air Defense Command. It is said one of his retirement gifts was a replica of the red phone he would have used to notify the president that the country had come under nuclear attack. Mark Bliss wrote an obituary that contains more details.

Stephen W. Thompson was born in West Plains, Mo., and joined the army when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. On the way to Virginia for training in the Coast Artillery Corps, he saw his first airplane. After his first flight, he switched to the Air Service. Even though his squadron had not yet begun combat operations, Thompson and a buddy hopped aboard French aircraft to serve as gunner-bombardiers. On that flight, he managed to shoot down an attacking fighter, the first aerial victory by any member of the U.S. military. He was awarded the Croix de guerre by the French government.

Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr.

Gen. Roscoe Robinson, Jr., born in St. Louis, was the first African-American to become a four-star general in the U.S. Army. He served as a platoon leader and rifle company commander in Korea in 1952, where he was awarded the Bronze Star. In 1967, he served as a battalion commander in Vietnam. For that service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, 11 Air Medals, and two Silver Stars.

Cape’s Medal of Honor recipient

PFC Richard G. Wilson was born in Marion, Ill., but moved to Cape Girardeau in 1939. He attended May Greene School and Central High School, where he played guard on the football team.

Wilson served in Korea as a private first class with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. On October 21, 1950, he was attached to Company I when the unit was ambushed while conducting a reconnaissance in force mission near Opa-ri. Wilson exposed himself to hostile fire in order to treat the many casualties and, when the company began to withdraw, he helped evacuate the wounded. After the withdrawal was complete, he learned that a soldier left behind and believed dead had been spotted trying to crawl to safety. Unarmed and against the advice of his comrades, Wilson returned to the ambush site in an attempt to rescue the wounded man. His body was found two days later, lying next to that of the man he had tried to save. For these actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on August 2, 1951.

The Quarry from the Top

 Buzzi Unicem plant manager Steve Leus 11-10-2010Without thinking I had a chance in the world of success, I approached Buzzi Unicem plant manage Steve Leus in the fall of 2010 to ask for a tour of the cement plant and quarry. That usually results in months of getting bounced from corporate type to corporate type, ending up in a “No.”

I showed up in Steve’s office with a stack of prints I had taken over the past 40 years from the air, from inside the caverns, from the quarry’s edge, and of the plumes of white particulate that used to belch from the stacks of the plant. We had a great conversation, then he handed me a hard hat and we were on our way. THAT’S the kind of manager I like to deal with.

There are some stories that paralyze me because they are special to me. This is one of those. I kept putting off and putting off publishing it because I wanted to research the history of the plant that has changed names many times, boil down Steve’s explanation of how rock  becomes cement and do it right.

Let’s pull the trigger

Cape cement plant and quarry 11-10-2010Today, more than three years later, I figured I’d better pull the trigger on this puppy and start publishing it in bits and pieces. I am NEVER going to do all that research and transcribe the paper and digital notes I have. Let’s get real: I’m a photographer, not a historian. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Part One will show the huge hole in the ground from the top. Well, not ALL the way from the top. I’ve got a bunch of aerial photos over the years that will run later.

Sometime in the future, I’ll publish photos taken from the bottom of the quarry including the tunnels that you are driving over when you are on Sprigg Street.

Unfortunately, NOBODY, Steve said, is allowed in them. There’s no danger of Sprigg Street collapsing, but safety regulations are a lot more stringent than they were a hundred years ago.

The old Blue Hole

Cape cement plant and quarry 11-10-2010If I remember my history and what Steve told me, the rounded area on the far right was what was popularly known as the “Blue Hole,” called that because of the color of the water that filled it. At one time, this area was two quarries. When the caverns were blown, it became one big hole.

You can see the dome of SEMO’s Academic Hall sticking up in the center of the photo.

Earlier stories about the quarry and cement plant

Quarry photo gallery

Some of the photos look a bit repetitious, but there are subtle difference in all of them. Click on any image to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery. Thanks to Steve for sharing a part of Cape that has fascinated me since I was a kid.