I can’t imagine anything more painful than losing a child.

“Sorrow comes in great waves…but rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us, it leaves us. And we know that if it is strong, we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain.” – Henry James

A Quiet Life

Doctor Bill Krissoff had a satisfying and tranquil life. He was a successful orthopedic surgeon with a thriving practice in the small northern California town of Truckee.

His twenty-five-year-old son, Nathan, was a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, deployed to Anbar Province in Iraq.

Memorial Day never meant that much to Dr. Bill Krissoff.

Maybe he’d catch glimpses on TV of wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. Otherwise, it meant picnics and a long weekend out of the office.

That meaning ended on December 9th, 2006, along with the life of his son. Nathan was killed that day when the Humvee that he was riding in drove over explosives that were buried in a dry riverbed near Fallujah.

Marine First Lieutenant Nathan M. Krissoff was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) on 9 December 2006 in Anbar Province, Iraq. Photo credit: sandiegotribune.com

A Call to Arms

Dr. Krissoff was devastated. There was nothing he could do to help his son, but maybe he could help some of the other men and women in harm’s way, serving their nation far from home.

Following Nathan’s memorial service, he spoke with his late son’s Battalion Commander. The topic of combat medicine came up. Dr. Krissoff asked the Marine officer if he thought he’d be able to serve in the military as a physician.

The commander thanked the grieving doctor for his interest but doubted he could serve since he was over 60 years old at the time, and it was unlikely he could get a waiver.

With a Little Help From Above

Cut to 2007, and President Bush is giving a speech in Reno, Nevada. After his talk, he met with the families who lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. While talking with them, the President asked if there was anything he could do for the grieving families.

To quote Dr. Krissoff:

“I asked him directly, I’m an orthopedic surgeon and wanted to serve in the Navy medical corps but was told I was too old, and no disrespect sir, I’m younger than you are.”

“No promises, but we’ll see what we can do,” was the reply from the President.

Two days later, a recruiter called the doctor and told him he had his waiver. Not long after that, he received a direct commission as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.

He joined a reserve unit, the 4th Medical Battalion, based out of San Diego. Their motto: Ministerium Ante Ipse (Service Before Self). Quite appropriate.

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Even though he was a seasoned physician who was a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in trauma and sports medicine, Krissoff took every combat medical course available to him.

Dr. Krissoff (right) during deployment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Bill Krissoff.

Continuing the Mission

He volunteered for deployment, and in February 2009, he was sent to Iraq for a seven-month tour. Almost immediately after returning, he volunteered for another tour, this time in Afghanistan.

During his time there he served as the primary or assistant surgeon on over 225 serious trauma cases at Camp Bastion. He was proud of the fact that Marines who made it to his facility with a heartbeat had a 97% chance of making it to the next medical treatment facility alive.

Krissoff served for another six years, during which time he was deployed to Guantanamo Bay and Morrocco. Remember, he was already 60 when he joined the Navy. At 67 years old, his age waiver ran out, and his military career was over.

Dr. Krissoff relaxes at home in Rancho Santa Fe, surrounded by reminders of his service. Image courtesy of sandiegotribune.com

He is proud of his years of service and is quick to explain how Nathan inspired him to serve and that he was continuing his son’s mission to bring Marines home safely.

In an interview for a civilian publication, a reporter asked Krissoff if he was seeking closure through enlisting.

“Actually, closure is really for those who have never lost a son or a daughter. That’s a cliché. It doesn’t have anything to do with reality. Losing a child means your family is changed forever.”

Thank you for your service, sir. You embody all that is good and honorable in the human spirit.