STAR VALLEY, WYO.
They called it "the beach party." But there would be no picnics. It was Iwo Jima in February 1945. And Ivan Bruderer, a 19-year-old sailor from Logan, Utah, was assigned to go ashore.
Some 67 years later, Brother Bruderer sat in his living room beside his wife, Ellen, in Star Valley, Wyo. It is a late summer day and green stretches across the valley where soon will be one of the Church's new temples.
"For years I wouldn't talk about my service [during World War II], the things that I saw, to my kids," said Brother Bruderer, a member of the Meadows Ward, Thayne Wyoming Stake. "Finally, a few years ago, my oldest boy cornered me and said, 'Dad, you haven't told us anything about your navy life.' And then it dawned on me. I owe it to my family what I went through, what war is all about and why I love this country like I do."
Ivan Bruderer is only about 5 feet tall, but to his family and friends he stands tall. He was a Scoutmaster for more than five decades and, along with his wife, visited stake Young Women camps for 57 years teaching outdoor skills. But during a Church News interview, the gray-haired, soft-spoken man was remembering a day in February 1945.
Assigned to the attack transport, the U.S.S. Logan — an apt assignment for the Cache Valley native — a young Brother Bruderer was a signalman in the U.S. Navy. His ship was part of the invasion of Iwo Jima — one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theater of World War II. By the time the island was taken a month later, some 25,000 American and Japanese soldiers and sailors had lost their lives.
"I was supposed to be one of those men who would go ashore to help inform our [commanders on board ship as to the battle's progress]. I was supposed to go on the barges."
But just as the sailor was ready to crawl down the nets, a messenger stopped him. He was to report to his commander on the bridge.
That commander said, "I want you as my messenger to stay here on my ship."
Of the fellow servicemen who got on that barge? "I have never seen any of those boys again."
Thus it was on Feb. 23, 1945, that the young signalman witnessed one of the iconic moments of World War II. He was using a "long glass," a type of telescope used by signalman to relay messages from beach commanders to shipboard commanders. Suddenly, he heard over the radio "they were trying to raise the flag."
"I watched them move all the way as the fellows died and fought to go up Mt. Suribachi."
Then, through that long glass, he watched those marines raise the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima. "I dare say I'm the only one in this whole valley that was able to watch it like that. I saw the little one."
The "little one" to which he refers was the first of two flags actually raised over the island. The famous statue at Arlington National Cemetery and the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo actually depicts the second flag raised.
Brother Bruderer spent some 18 months in the Navy during that last year of the war and into the early peace-keeping months. Servicemen weren't allowed to keep a diary for security reasons, but the young man wanted some way to keep a record of his travels. So he began jotting little notes on the back cardboard page of a photo album. He still has that back page, now torn from the album. This simple family heirloom reads like a condensed version of World War II history – Iwo Jima, Okinawa, New Caledonia, Saipan, Japan.
While on New Caledonia in July 1945, Brother Bruderer might have been among the first Latter-day Saints to visit the island. He doesn't remember meeting any other members while there, but he relates going deer hunting while his ship was under repair.
It is of Okinawa that Brother Bruderer has the hardest time talking about. He remembers watching the battle through the long glass, seeing the waves turn red. He recalls marines getting shot from machine gun nests in the caves above the beach. And he remembers the flame-throwers to subdue those nests. And to this day, he swears he could hear the screams. "I hated to talk about it."
During such times, he relied on his faith. There were a few other LDS servicemen on board. "We had prayer every night and we'd have church [services] on the fantail on the back of the ship."
He related blessing and passing the sacrament using bread from the mess hall and a glass of water.
In 1946, Brother Bruderer was honorably discharged and returned home. He was soon called to serve in the Swiss Mission. "I was among the first missionaries out [after the war]," he related.
In 1949, he married Ellen Keller in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and over the years they have lived in Pocatello, Idaho, and Green River, Wyo. In 1989, they settled in Star Valley. To support their family of six children, he worked as a truck driver, a distributor and for a natural gas pipeline that reaches to the Canadian Border. From 2001-2002, Brother and Sister Bruderer served in the Switzerland Zurich Mission.
Today, they have 79 direct descendants. A few miles away in Auburn stands the old Rock Church, built in 1889 by early Latter-day Saint settlers to the valley. Out front is a flag pole where the American flag is often seen waving in the breeze. Part of that flag pole is a 20-foot pipe that was once part of Ivan Bruderer's mother's clothes line.
The former Navy signalman and his Scouts raised that flag pole 20 years ago. One wonders if on that day Brother Bruderer remembered watching another flag raised over an island in the Pacific.
Some information for this article came from the May 25, 2012, and June 2, 2012, issues of the Church News; from the Lincoln County (Wyo.) Historical Sites website; and from www.history.navy.mil/library/online/battleiwojima.htm.