LIANE HANSEN, host:
Marine Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff was killed by a bomb blast in Iraq one year ago today. The young officer's father, Bill Krissoff, remembers how devastated he was by the news. But he did more than grieve. Bill Krissoff set about finding a meaningful way to pay tribute to his son.
Soon then 61-year-old orthopedic surgeon came up with an idea, but he had to convince a lot of people that he wasn't too old to make it happen.
NPR's Richard Gonzales has more.
RICHARD GONZALES: Bill Krissoff says the last time he spoke with his son, Nathan was excited about a personal triumph.
Dr. BILL KRISSOFF (Navy Medical Corps): His Marine unit had come upon an insurgent group that was about to execute a hostage. And they diffused that, arrested the insurgents, saved the 60-year-old individual whose son had already been killed previously. And as Nate said, he'd never been kissed or hugged so much so many times by a man. He was pretty ecstatic about that.
GONZALES: We're standing in an alcove of the Krissoff home in Reno, Nevada. There's a picture of the young officer next to the man he had saved along with other photos, medals and commendations.
Bill Krissoff pauses and then recalls how everything changed just a few days after that phone call.
Dr. KRISSOFF: There was a knock at the door, and I looked out the window next to the door, and there were three Marines in uniform with the Navy chaplain. And there's only why reason why they would be there on a Saturday morning, so I knew immediately, and it's a kick in the gut.
GONZALES: Twenty-five-year-old First Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff, a counterintelligence office with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion was killed when a roadside bomb destroyed his Humvee.
By all accounts, he was an extraordinary young man and Marine. A talented musician and poet, Nathan Krissoff was also an exceptional athlete and captain of his high school and college swim teams. And his father says he had other special qualities.
Dr. KRISSOFF: He was very inclusive. He tried to bring everybody along. He was a natural leader, very charismatic, but very humble.
GONZALES: Longtime friend Peter Burchett(ph) of Los Angeles says Nathan Krissoff was one of the most selfless people he's ever known.
Mr. PETER BURCHETT(ph): I remember another time in high school where there was a really bad storm up in Monterey, and he organized a team of students and faculty members himself to go out and provide help as far as the cleanup operations. Helping others was something that energized him.
GONZALES: In the months after Nathan's death, Bill Krissoff searched for ways to honor his son's sacrifice. Then he realized he could follow the example set by Nathan and his other son, Austin, who is also a Marine lieutenant. At age 61, Bill Krissoff had decided to try to join the service himself. The idea came to him after a visit from Nathan's commanding officer.
Dr. KRISSOFF: I asked him what about medical care in the Marines, and he talked about his battalion's surge and an anesthesiologist who was basically eminently involved in their day-to-day activities and caring for their needs, their medical needs. I thought to myself that I'd really like to do that. That would be fitting.
GONZALES: A Navy medical recruiter told Krissoff that he was already well past the age limit. But he didn't give up. In August, when he and his wife, along with other military families, were invited to meet President Bush, Bill Krissoff decided to make one last pitch, this time directly to the commander in chief.
Dr. KRISSOFF: And at the end of the period of time, he asked if there is anything he could do, I was kind of last, and I said, well, there is one thing. I'd like to join the Navy Medical Corps. Is there any way you can help me with this process? And Karl Rove was in the room, and he asked me to fax my papers to his office in the White House.
GONZALES: Within days, Krissoff was granted an age waiver. The news came from his Navy recruiter, Lieutenant Commander Ken Hopkins.
Lieutenant Commander KEN HOPKINS (Navy Medical Recruiter): He's got that skill set that we're looking for. He's in great shape for a 60-year-old guy. He's out kayaking and swims a mile every day. And he's definitely - I think he can probably outswim me.
GONZALES: Last week, Bill Krissoff was in the final stages of shutting down his orthopedic practice and preparing to report for training in San Diego. He insists he sees nothing special about his decision to join the military and serve in a war zone, although he hopes he might inspire other senior physicians to do the same.
As for what his son Nathan might say…
Dr. KRISSOFF: Nate would say, at the commissioning and seeing where I am up to, he'd just say, way to go, pops. He'd be very proud.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.