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Mt. Soledad Memorial Day Ceremony to salute Krissoff family

This plaque honoring Nathan Krissoff, son of Christine and William Krissoff, will be dedicated May 25 at Mt. Soledad. Brother, Austin, also served in the Marines.
This plaque honoring Nathan Krissoff, son of Christine and William Krissoff, will be dedicated May 25 at Mt. Soledad. Brother, Austin, also served in the Marines.
/ Courtesy

It was nearly five years to the day after the 9/11 attacks that Marine 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff, a counterintelligence officer with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, deployed to Iraq on Sept. 6, 2006. Just three months later, in the early morning hours of Dec. 9, as he and three fellow Marines were returning to base after combat patrol in a town on the outskirts of Fallujah, Krissoff’s Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb. Nathan bore the brunt of the explosion and was killed instantly.

A plaque honoring Nathan Krissoff will be dedicated at the annual Memorial Day Ceremony at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, beginning 2 p.m. Monday, May 25 at 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive (at Via Capri).

The keynote speaker will be Major General Lawrence D. Nicholson, Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton. Ceremonies will include music from the MCRD Marine Corps Brass Quintet and a T-34 Performance Team Fly-over, and the singing of “God Bless America.”

Colonel Bill Seely, who was Lt. Krissoff’s commanding officer in Iraq, will address his character and ultimate service to country. Colonel Seely will also share the inspiring story of the entire Krissoff family — his father, William B. Krissoff, M.D. and his mother, Christine Krissoff of Rancho Santa Fe, and Nathan’s younger brother, Austin, who, like Nathan, became a Marine intelligence officer.

Dr. Krissoff found a very special way to honor his son’s memory. At age 61, Dr. Krissoff left his thriving orthopedic practice to join the Navy Medical Corps, serving as the primary or assisting surgeon on more than 225 serious casualties. (View video at YouTube.com, search Bill Krissoff.)

One family’s story

According to his father, Nathan was deeply moved by the 9/11 attacks that occurred while he was in his junior year at Williams College in Massachusetts. Located in closer proximity to the attacks, many of Nathan’s friends had friends or relatives who were lost in the tragedy. A year after he graduated, Nathan applied to join the CIA, but his recruiter, although impressed by his academics and character, encouraged him to first gain some real-world experience. Nathan chose to do so through service to country: he joined the Marines as an intelligence officer in 2004, at a time when the war in Iraq was volatile. But that was where he requested assignment, after intelligence school and an assignment in Okinawa.

The story of sacrifice and determination didn’t end with Nathan’s death.

In the summer of 2007, his parents hosted Colonel Seely at their home in Reno, Nevada. Dr. Krissoff asked who provided medical care for Marines recovering from severe injuries. Seely told him that was the Navy Medical Corps battalion surgeon.

For Dr. Krissoff, that was an important moment. “I knew that was what I wanted to do: become a battalion surgeon. I felt it would be a fitting and rewarding way for me to give back.

“In most cases, fathers inspire sons,” he explained. “In this case, sons inspired dad.”

Krissoff was referring not only to his son’s Nathan’s ultimate sacrifice, but to his son, Austin, who, at the time of Nathan’s death, was finishing officers school on his way to becoming a Marine.

Dr. Krissoff left his thriving orthopedic practice to join the Navy Medical Corps. But the road to the war zone wasn’t easy: recruiters told him he was too far past the age limit of 42 to be remotely considered. It took presidential intervention for Dr. Krissoff to override the age limit. Following an address to the American Legion in Reno, where the Krissoffs lived at the time, President George Bush and Special Senior Advisor Karl Rove met with the Krissoffs and other families who had lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

When the President asked if there was anything he could do for the families, Dr. Krissoff spoke up. “I’m a pretty good orthopedic surgeon,” he said. “When my younger son is deployed to Iraq next March, I’d like to be working there as a Navy medical officer.” Bush quickly turned to Christine, knowing this would mean both her husband and surviving son would be in a war theater simultaneously.

“What does mama think about this?” the President asked. After Christine told him she was in agreement, the president asked Austin for his assessment. Austin said his dad was in good shape — he had long run marathons, skied and kayaked — and could handle the assignment. The President summoned Rove and tasked him with making the arrangements.

Rove checked out Krissoff on his way back to Washington and learned that he was indeed “a pretty good surgeon.”

“His reputation was that of an outstanding trauma and sports medicine surgeon. He was also a marathon runner and a really fine person,” Rove wrote.

In his study in Rancho Santa Fe, Dr. Bill Krissoff holds a photo of his son 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff and his Purple Heart medallion.
In his study in Rancho Santa Fe, Dr. Bill Krissoff holds a photo of his son 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff and his Purple Heart medallion.
/ kris grant

Two days later, Rove placed Krissoff’s application on the President’s desk just before the President was to meet with Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time. On his final day at the White House, Rove wrote Krissoff a note to wish him well.

In short order, Krissoff retired from his medical practice. Once commissioned, he joined the Navy Reserve’s 4th Medical Battalion north of Miramar Air Station and the Krissoffs moved to San Diego County.

Dr. Krissoff served two deployments, the first with a surgical team from Camp Lejune at al Taqaddam Air Base near Fallujah, just a few miles from where Nathan had been killed. His second, just days after his return stateside, was at the main trauma center at Camp Bastion in southwestern Afghanistan and coincided with the Marines’ assault on Marjah, a Taliban sanctuary riddled with snipers and makeshift antipersonnel mines. Dr. Krissoff’s first case was a triple amputee. Over the next seven months, he served as the primary or assisting surgeon on 225 casualties.

He worked at Camp Pendleton through 2011, then deployed to Guantanamo Bay.

Through it all, he said, he remained inspired by his two sons.

“Nate had a lot of talents,” Dr. Krissoff reflected. “Whatever he put his mind to, he accomplished.” Those accomplishments included a high school career where he was a standout athlete in water polo, captain of the swim team, president of the student body, an accomplished classical pianist, poet and the top English student.

“He had many strengths; he was inclusive and had an innate emotional intelligence,” Dr. Krissoff said, and, as a case in point, shared a letter Nathan wrote home just three months before his death:

“Almost five years to the day after September 11, 2001, I have the chance to put my money where my mouth is in terms of service ... I’m constantly reminded of that famous quote from Tom Hanks’ character at the end of ‘Saving Private Ryan’: ‘Earn this.’ Earning it will mean sacrifice, determination, doing my job to the best of my ability. I chose this, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The proud father also related that Capt. Austin Krissoff completed his Marine Corps service in 2012, obtained a graduate degree in securities studies at Georgetown University and now works for an executive search firm specializing in security personnel.

IF YOU GO: Early arrival is recommended. Old Town Trolley will provide complimentary shuttle service to and from the Memorial from nearby Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church (6551 Soledad Mountain Road) and The French American School (6550 Soledad Mountain Road) parking lots.

The Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial is the largest Veterans Memorial on the West Coast. It includes 3,600 tributes to individual veterans embedded on black granite plaques mounted on 11 curved walls. The Memorial stands high on La Jolla’s Mount Soledad, offering panoramic views of San Diego, the north coast and the Pacific Ocean.

OTHER MILITARY MEMORIALS SCHEDULED

1) Miramar Cemetery will honor veterans at May 24 event:

More than 700 San Diego veterans and their families and members of the public are expected to attend the Veterans Memorial Service at Miramar National Cemetery, 1-2 p.m., Sunday, May 24 at 5795 Nobel Drive, just west of the Marine Corps Air Station, off Miramar Road and I-805.

The guest speaker will be decorated WWII veteran and retired financial executive Joel D. Sollender, who was a POW captured by the Germans, then held by the Russians until he escaped. The featured speaker will be Captain Laura M. Scotty of the Navy Reserve, who will address the growing role of women in the Armed Forces.

Westwind Brass, Bugles Across America and Bagpiper will provide music. The Color Guard, U.S. Navy League Sea Cadets. The annual event is sponsored by the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation.

2) White Sands to hold ‘pinning’ ceremony for vets May 26:

The Elizabeth Hospice and White Sands La Jolla will host a pinning ceremony to thank veterans residing at White Sands for their military service, 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 26 at 7450 Olivetas Ave.

La Jolla Chaplain Frederick Johnson, USAF veteran, will emcee the ceremony. A vocalist and trumpet player will also lead a sing-along of patriotic songs. The community is invited to join the group in honoring our nation’s veterans and remembering those who died in service. (858) 869-0229.