William "Bill" Bruce Dezelske

Navy Badge
  • Name: William "Bill" Bruce Dezelske
  • Location of Birth: Grand Rapids, Minnesota
  • Date of Birth: August 17, 1920
  • Date of Death: March 26, 1979
  • Parents: Reinhold Dezelske & Minnie (Holmstead) Dezelske
  • High School and Class: 1938 Greenway High School, Coleraine, Minnesota
  • College:
  • Highest Rank: MM 2 (Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Petty Officer)
  • Branch: Navy
  • Other Branch:
  • Date Sworn In: August 29, 1942
  • Place Sworn In:
  • Date of Discharge: December 6, 1945
  • Place of Discharge:
  • Military Awards:
    Purple Heart
    Lapel Pin
    Congressional Gold Medal

  • Military Highlights:
    WW II Draft Registration Cards – 10/16/1940 – 03/31/1947
    State: Minnesota
    Name: William Bruce Dezelske
    Race: White
    Age: 21
    Birth Date: August 17, 1920
    Birth Place: Grand Rapids, Minnesota, USA
    Residence Place: Coleraine, Itasca, Minnesota, USA
    Registration Date: February 16, 1942
    Employer: Oliver Iron Mining Co., Coleraine, Minnesota
    Weight: 152
    Height: 5-7
    Complexion: Light
    Eye Color: Blue
    Hair Color: Blonde
    Next of Kin: Mrs. R. A. Dezelske, Coleraine, Minnesota

    Newspaper article: November 1944 – “A letter last night from Wm. Dezelske, MM 2/c of the U.S. Navy, told of his narrow escape in the recent western train wreck in which so many were killed and which shocked the whole country. “Bill” was returning to San Francisco from his leave here with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Dezelske, and in company with him was Mickey Anderson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Anderson of Marble, who had also been home on leave. Both these boys were so fortunate as to be in one of the few coaches which were not derailed. They were sound asleep when the terrific jar awoke them and they found they were in one of the worst train wrecks known for many years. For fear of alarming his mother, Bill did not telegraph of his safety, but waited to write his parents, since they did not know which train he took.”

    Newspaper article: February 1945 – “Mrs. R. A. Dezelske recently received a letter from her son, MM 2/c Bill Dezelske, in which he revealed that he is a member of the crew of the cruiser, “Indianapolis”, which took part in the Tokyo raid of February 16-17.”

    Newspaper article: Itasca Iron News, Coleraine, Minnesota - April 19, 1945 – “Bill Dezelske, MM 2/c has written his parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Dezelske of Coleraine, that his ship participated in the action at Iwo Jima. He spoke of landing on a little islet called Uliphi, near Iwo Jima, and of holding a recreation party after the island had been occupied.”

    Newspaper article: June 1945 – “Bill Dezelske MM 2/c and his sister, Mrs. George Sundstrom, and children of Duluth, arrived at the home of their parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. W. Dezelske Wednesday evening. Bill, who has been aboard the USS Indianapolis somewhere in the western Pacific, has until the 31st [sic] of June to visit at home. At that time he will report back to his ship in San Francisco. Bill was aboard this heavy cruiser when her big guns pounded the enemy at Okinawa, and also when she was a member of the Pacific fleet which took part in the attacks on Tokyo and Iwo Jima. His ship helped blast the Japs at Saipan, Guam, and Tinian, and was the first large American combatant vessel to anchor in Apra harbor since the war began. During her actions against the Japs, the Indianapolis has downed nine enemy planes and sunk one transport.”

    Newspaper article: Itasca Iron News, Coleraine, Minnesota - August 1945 – “Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Dezelske have learned this week that their son, Wm. Dezelske MM 2/c, who was wounded July 30, was aboard the USS Indianapolis, whose sinking by the Japanese was made public only recently. On August 15 Bill received the Purple Heart and the Lapel Pin which he is entitled to wear on civilian clothes. He is stationed at a naval hospital in the Marianas at the present time, and has notified his parents that he is fine. The Iron News had this information last week, but did not dare to use it owing the censor’s restrictions not yet removed.”

    Newspaper article: Itasca Iron News, Coleraine, Minnesota - August 1945 – “Several weeks ago The Itasca Iron News carried an item about one of our local sailors, MM 2/c Wm. Dezelske, stating that he was one of the survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, sunk July 30, by the Japanese. Since that time, however, we have secured some of the details of Bill’s experiences from his parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Dezelske, and think our readers would be interested to know just what this lad has endured for his countrymen. When the Japs attacked the Indianapolis, she sank within fifteen minutes, leaving her crew of 1,198 men floundering in the waters of the Pacific. Many of this number plunged to their death immediately, others lived for days in the water, clinging to the wreckage of the ship, tortured by the sun’s intense rays. Many died of the heat and exposure, others drank the salt water and suffered agonies before death. Of the crew of 1,198 men who were left adrift, only a small proportion survived, to be picked up by a troop transport escort five days later. Of this group who lived through the horrifying ordeal, an average of 50 men a day died for four days after their rescue. Bill was one of the 315 who survived. In our opinion he must be a pretty “tough guy” and all of us in this community are proud of him. Had the Japanese only known it, they were “locking the barn door after the horse was stolen” for the Indianapolis had already completed her mission. She had carried a part of the atomic bombs, which were a few weeks later to shock the world, to Japan, and was on her return trip. The ship’s survivors were taken to a base hospital in the Marianna Islands. All of them were awarded the Purple Heart. Bill recently wrote his parents from the hospital that he is getting along fine, and hopes to be sent to the States soon. He lost 20 pounds during his five days in the water. He also told his parents of his birthday party, which he enjoyed in his hospital bed. The Red Cross brought him a huge cake, which he shared with patients and hospital staff. Several days ago Mrs. Dezelske received a letter from the Medical officer in command of the hospital where Bill is receiving care. He writes, “Dear Mrs. Dezelske, I wish to inform you that your son, who was wounded on July 30, 1945, is making excellent progress. His wound consists of skin ulcers resulting from exposure to the sun. Please be assured that he is receiving the best possible medical care and will be evacuated in the near future. W. Dalton Davis, Capt. U.S.N. Medical Officer in Command.”

    Newspaper article - Grand Rapids Herald-Review, Grand Rapids, MN - April. 4, 2021 - In his column 'Woods & Water With The Dimichs', Rod Dimich quoted this story written by Bill Dezelske's daughter Mary Johnson: "I especially enjoyed your last article 'It's only an island...' As a note of interest, my father, William Dezelske of Coleraine, was on the USS Indianapolis and a survivor of its sinking. Yes, it is true what 'Jaws' character 'Quint' said about the sinking and the aftermath. But, the actual story is much, much worse and today is still called 'The worst Naval disaster in U.S. History.' The most recent book written about this war maritime tragedy is the 2018 'Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man' by Lynn Vincent & Sara Vladic, which gives a 12-year historically researched accurate account of the heavy cruiser that carried the core of the atomic bomb 'Little Boy' that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945. Then detailing, it was nearly sunk by a Japanese sub while it still had the vital bomb components on board, and how that same sub subsequently did sink the 'Indy' 29 July 1945 after it had delivered the vital bomb elements to the U.S. Army Air Force Base on the island of Tinian. The vessel sank in 12 minutes. Can you imagine how the end of the war might have been significantly different had they torpedoed the 'Indy' with the bomb on board? Through Naval and Government ineptness and negligence, however, the arrival of the 'Indy' in its next port was not reported and thus no rescue mission ensued. Consequently the men who abandoned ship floated aimlessly in shark-infested South Pacific waters until the morning of the fifth day when they were accidentally discovered by a reconnaissance plane. Of the 1,198 men on board, only 316 survived. My dad was one of the fortunate ones. On December 20, 2018, the entire crew of the 'USS Indianapolis' was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal."

  • Wars Involved:
    World War II

  • MIA / POW:

  • Civilian Life:
    William Dezelske was a life-long resident of this area and was a 33-year employee of Hanna Mining Co.

    Bill died in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Coleraine, Minnesota (Block 141). He is survived by his wife, Irene; three daughters, Mrs. Allan (Donna) Algoso, Mrs. Larry (Mary) Johnson, and Mrs. Donald (Joan) Haberle; three sons, Daniel, Robert and Paul; a sister, Mrs. George (Ellyn) Sundstrom; and five grandchildren.

  • Tribal Affiliation(s):