On a bench in Veterans Memorial Park is one word inscribed above two names, two dates of service, two ranks, two shared wartimes and two shared branches of service: Brothers.
The brothers are John Christians, 86, of Fort Dodge, and Glenn Christians, 89, of Mount Dora, Fla. They sat down on the bench - together, for the first time - Thursday.
The Navy was their branch of service. John Christians served on a seaplane tender called the U.S.S. Yakutat in the Pacific. Glenn Christians was stationed on dozens of merchant ships that sailed across oceans in supply convoys.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Brothers John Christians, of Fort Dodge, left, and Glenn Christians, of Mount Dora, Fla., walk past their memorial bench at the Veteran’s Memorial Park at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park.
The Christians grew upon a farm near Moorland. They volunteered for the Navy after graduation from high school.
John Christians has a theory about why so many young people from the Midwest volunteered for duty at sea.
"It was the love of the ocean," he said, gazing across the vista from his seat on the bench. "Nobody had ever seen the ocean."
After training, Glenn Christians shipped out from New York. It was a time of danger on the oceans, he said. A fleet of 80 to 100 ships would have nine destroyers escort it to its destination, but it would still be vulnerable to submarine attacks.
"You'd leave New York harbor and get sunk," Glenn Christians said as he sat next to his brother.
How many trips did he make? He didn't count. He recalled, though, that convoys would manage four or five ocean crossings a year, and that it gradually got a bit safer.
"It got easier as the war went on," he said. "Less subs."
John Christians has a lasting memory of the U.S. mainland as his ship left for Pearl Harbor.
"The last thing you see is Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge," he said.
Both his stomach and the Navy treated him roughly during his first voyage.
"I was seasick the whole way," he said. "You still had to stand watch, though. There wasn't much mercy shown in those days."
His first stop near combat was the island of Saipan.
"That's were I got my first real taste of war," he said.
He paused for a second and looked out over Badger Lake.
"Bodies were floating out to sea," he said quietly. "There were so many you couldn't miss them."
Glenn Christian had a similar experience.
"They told us not to try."
The brothers are haunted by the memories.
"When you're only 17, " John Christians said, "it affects you."
John Christians' seaplane tender would supply aircraft with fuel, spare parts and crew quarters. They would mark runways on the ocean with buoys and float a U-shaped repair platform.
He said the planes were vital to the Navy.
"The seaplanes were the eyes of the Navy at the time." They would gather intelligence and help rescue crews from planes that had to ditch at sea.
John Christians took part in the battle for Okinawa. The seaplane base was established just a few days before the battle on April 1, 1945.
"It was an Easter Sunday and April Fools' Day."
And it was a nightmare, even on a ship that was a distance from the island and intense fighting.
"We got the worst of the kamikaze. They took a terrible toll."
"The lack of sleep was so damned bad," he said.
Sleep deprivation was a problem for his brother too.
"We were strafed a lot and bombed," Glenn Christians said. Once, off the coast of Africa, a plane dropped flares among the convoy, lighting the ships and making them easier targets.
"Then they had a go at you."
Together, they joked about the pay they got.
"When we went in," Glenn Christians said. "both of us got $19 a month plus change."
"When you went into combat," John Christians said, "you went up to $22 plus change. They raised you three bucks."
They were discharged in 1946 and took separate roads.
Glenn Christians went to college and earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's in mechanical engineering. He's retired twice, from two different companies, and has traveled the world, lived in Europe and many places in the U.S.
John Christians came back to Fort Dodge and worked as a quarry superintendent for what was then CertainTeed. The quarry filled with water at Webster County Road P59 and Fifth Avenue South is his.
He retired at 62.
"I couldn't take another cold winter," he joked.
The brothers were only able to see each other once a year or so after the war.
"The war tore our family apart," John Christians said. "We went every which way."
But both have taken Honor Flights. John Christians went in May of 2010 from Fort Dodge. Glenn Christians went in September 2010 from Daytona Beach, Fla.
Both were amazed at the outpouring of gratitude.
"It was out of this world, " John Christians said.
Together, they are part of The Greatest Generation, and they can easily sum up what made them so.
"We tried to better ourselves in whatever we did," Glenn Christians said. "We didn't ask for a handout."
Then they fell quiet and rose from the bench together.