Just outside the Rock Church in Auburn, there is a tall metal flag pole. Driving by, you will often see the American flag 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.
It’s been more than 20 years since Bruderer, a Scoutmaster and resident of Auburn, took his Boy Scouts to the grounds of the Rock Church and planted that flag pole in concrete. One wonders if at that moment he remembered another flag-raising. Sixty-seven years ago he was a 19-year-old sailor watching from the deck of his ship as U.S. Marines raised the first American flag over Iwo Jima in February 1945.
“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,” he said, sitting in his living room in Auburn, his wife, Ellen, by his side. The “little one” to which he refers was the first of two flags actually raised over the island captured in one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific Theater in World War II. The famous statue at Arlington National Cemetery and the Pulitzer-prize winning iconic photo of the war actually depicts the second flag raised as the battle raged.
Now 87 years old, but still lean and fit as the young man sporting a sailor’s uniform in a family photo album, Bruderer reminisced last summer with the Independent about his war experiences. He especially spoke of the moment described in three little words on the back page of his old photo album – “watched flag raising.”
On Feb. 23, 1945, Bruderer, a signalman on board the attack transport U.S.S. Logan, was watching the progress of the battle on the beaches. He was using a “long glass,” a type of telescope used by signalman to relay messages from beach commanders to shipboard commanders. Suddenly, after several days of intense battle, word came that marines were climbing the highest peak on the island to raise the American flag. “So I grabbed the long glass and I watched them move all the way as the fellows died and fought to go up on Mt. Surabachi,” Bruderer said.
The longtime Star Valley resident, father of six with a growing posterity of 79, has spoken of his war experiences only a handful of times.
“For years I wouldn’t talk about my service, the things that I saw, to my kids. Finally, a few years ago, my oldest boy corners me and said, ‘Dad, you haven’t told us anything about your navy life. We don’t know a thing.’ And then it dawned on me, I owe it to my family, the children, what I went through, what war is all about and why I love this country like I do.”
This love for his country was fostered in Bruderer from his earliest days by his parents, Conrad and Anna Bruderer, who emigrated from Switzerland when they were children. Ivan, born November 26, 1925, was one of 15 children, 13 boys and two girls, in the family raised in Logan, Utah.
The war was on “full blast” in 1944 when he dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Navy, training in Farragut, Idaho. But there was one challenge for the teenage sailor – he got seasick easy. Learning that the center of the ship rocks the least, he signed on as a signalman so he could stay close to the bridge. Bruderer was assigned first to the attack transport, U.S.S. Olmsted, but on its voyage out of Bremerton, Wash., it hit a log, bending the screw shaft. So Bruderer and the others were put on trains to San Francisco, Calif., where they shipped out to Pearl Harbor aboard the U.S.S. San Francisco.
Amidst the horrors of war, there were also the moments of humor. While sailing to the Hawaiian Islands, he was training on the bridge as a signalman. The quartermaster asked him if he’d like to take the wheel for a while.
“They gave me the course and I’d follow that course and I’d turn quick to get back and soon here comes the commander and says, ‘Get back on course!’ And I said, “Just passing it, Sir!’”
Upon reaching Pearl Harbor, the native of Logan, Utah, was assigned to the U.S.S. Logan, another attack transport, and they set sail a few weeks later. Their destination turned out to be Iwo Jima. That is where Bruderer felt the hand of divine providence. Among those assigned to what marines called the “beach party” were signalmen to rely progress back to the ships.
“I was supposed to go on the barges,” Bruderer said quietly. “I was down there [ready to climb down the net]. A messenger said, ‘The commander wants to see you.’ I went up [to the bridge] and he said, ‘I want you as my messenger to stay here on my ship.’” Bruderer recalled, “I have never seen any of those boys [on that barge] again after that day.”
Sailors and soldiers were ordered not to keep journals, for security reasons, but Bruderer wanted to somehow keep track of his naval journey, so he began jotting the dates and places along the way on the back of a photo album.
Today, that piece of cardboard reads like a condensed history of the Pacific Theater – Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Guam, Saipan, Okinawa. It is of the latter that Bruderer has trouble relating. Still at his duties as a signalman on the bridge, he kept watch on the battle. He said the water on the edge of the beach was red. As marines would drive inward, they would be hit by fire from the caves in the cliffs. That’s when they brought in the flamethrowers.
“They’d step up with their flamethrowers; they’d shoot it in the caves.”
He swears that from the ship you could hear the screams. “I hated to talk about it.”
This is where Bruderer says his faith supported him. He remembers chaplains leading the men in prayers. And he remembers taking the sacrament (communion) on the fantail of the ship with other Latter-day Saint servicemen.
Bruderer was discharged in 1946, returned home and married his sweetheart, Ellen May Keller, in August 1949 in the Idaho Falls, Idaho. They have lived in Pocatello, Green River, Wyo., and settled in Star Valley in 1989, where he is known for decades of Scouting and teaching survival skills to young women at LDS Young Women stake camps. He has been a truck driver, distributor and worked for a natural gas pipeline that reaches to the Canadian Border.
And he still has his sense of humor. One job for a short while was delivering beer for a brewery. His employers valued him because he was the only employee who didn’t sample the product. And up until a severe neck injury two years ago, he hunted the mountains of Star Valley for elk and deer with his sons. In front of the Bruderer home is a flag pole and almost each day, he raises and lowers the Stars and Stripes. He gets emotional when he remembers “our men who died.”
And he is hurt by those who destroy or desecrate the American flag. He remembers watching men climb a mountain in the Pacific while getting shot at to raise that flag.
Some historical information for this article is taken from the following Websites: starvalleyhs.lincolncountywy.org/Old_Rock_Church.html and www.iwojima.com/raising/raisingb.htm.