After he was killed in Fallouja, Iraq, in 2006, Marine Lt. Nathan Krissoff was praised by other Marines as a young man who was charismatic yet humble, a natural leader.
At a memorial service at a base once used by the army of Saddam Hussein, battle-hardened Marines wept and embraced one another. His battalion commander told the assemblage that Krissoff had shown “great courage and steadfast dedication.”
On Memorial Day, Krissoff, who was a champion swimmer, a lover of poetry, a graduate of an elite East Coast college who enlisted in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will be remembered anew.
At a 2 p.m. ceremony expected to be attended by several hundred persons atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego, a plaque in Krissoff’s honor will take its place on the walls surrounding the 43-foot-tall cross.
Thousands of other plaques attest to the service and sacrifice of the nation’s military personnel.
A general who attended the memorial service in Fallouja said it was one of the most emotional of the many he attended -- such was the effect of the 25-year-old intelligence officer’s death upon the Marines and sailors of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion.
But there is more to the Krissoff story. Nathan’s younger brother, Austin, was also a Marine officer who deployed to Iraq.
Their father, Dr. Bill Krissoff, an orthopedic surgeon, had a profitable practice in Truckee, Calif., when his son was killed.
Admittedly he had not been altogether enthusiastic when Nathan, a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, had opted for the Marine Corps rather than enroll in graduate school or begin climbing the corporate ladder.
To honor his son, Krissoff decided to enlist in the Navy medical corps. He was rejected as too old, despite the fact that, even at 60, he was lean and fit.
Then in August 2007, Krissoff and his wife, Christine, found themselves invited to meet President George W. Bush, who often met with parents of those killed in combat. And as he often did, Bush asked, almost rhetorically, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Krissoff told Bush of his desire to enlist. Bush turned to his closest advisor, Karl Rove, with a simple directive: Make it happen.
Soon, at age 61, Krissoff was active-duty Navy, undergoing predeployment medical training. Battlefield medicine is different than a civilian practice fixing up people injured in skiing accidents. He deployed to Iraq.
“I did not go to Iraq looking for closure,” Krissoff said Friday. “Austin and I were looking to finish Nathan’s unfinished tasks.”
Other deployments took Krissoff to Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Although he is reluctant to mention it, Krissoff was part of a medical team in Afghanistan that dispatched immediately “outside the wire” to wherever a U.S. or coalition soldier had been wounded.
During his seven-month deployment, Krissoff "would serve as the primary or assisting surgeon on 225 serious casualties," wrote reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz in their book, "For Love of Country."
“His presence there saved many, many lives,” said Major Gen. Larry Nicholson, who was a regimental commander in Iraq when Nathan Krissoff was killed and is now the commander of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.
The Krissoffs, he said, "are an incredible, patriotic family. I'm proud to call Bill a friend."
Nicholson will be the keynote speaker at Monday’s ceremony at Mt. Soledad. Also set to attend is Marine Col. Bill Seely, who was Nathan Krissoff’s battalion commander in Iraq and eulogized him at the memorial service in Fallouja.
Bill and Christine live in Rancho Santa Fe; Bill, now 68, has retired. The Krissoffs will be in attendance at Mt. Soledad but Bill does not plan to speak.
He wants the focus of attention at the ceremony not to be on his service but that of his son and others. With only a tiny fraction of Americans choosing to enlist, Memorial Day should be a time for everyone to reflect on those who have served and sacrificed, he said.
"There's a chasm between those who have served and those who haven't," he said.