1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff (left) and his father, Lt. Cmdr. William Krissoff
The Fourth of July comes early this year, with this tribute to a patriotic American family, written by Karl Rove for the Wall Street Journal:
At a dinner last week in California, I was reminded of the debt we owe to those who have, for 233 years, sustained our freedom and independence. One remarkable family in particular exemplifies the best in the American spirit of courage and sacrifice.
Sitting at my table was a friend, Christine Krissoff, wife of Dr. Bill Krissoff and mother of Nathan and Austin Krissoff. One of her sons, Marine First Lt. Nathan Krissoff, was killed in Al Anbar Province in December 2006. A Williams College grad, athlete and musician, he'd left for Iraq on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was 25.
I met his parents and brother in Nevada in August 2007 while accompanying President George W. Bush to Reno, Nev. The president was there to address the American Legion before meeting with local families who'd lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan. Mr. Bush has met with about 550 families in private visits like this. At those meetings, he would have a senior staff member close by in case there was something that needed to be followed up on, such as getting a flag to a family member.
We entered a small room in the back of the convention center to find the Krissoffs waiting -- the father in a black suit with his arms crossed and the mother in a plain dark outfit. Their dress contrasted with their son Austin's Marine dress uniform. Like his older brother, Austin had volunteered for service after college. He was to be deployed to Iraq in March 2008.
During my White House years, I saw few people with the quiet power, intelligence and poise of Chris Krissoff. She talked about her sons, the pain of her loss, her concern for her youngest when he went into harm's way, and the stakes in the War on Terror. The entire time, her husband was quiet.
When stories had been told, tears wept, and grief expressed, Mr. Bush asked if he could do anything. At that, Bill Krissoff spoke.
"Yes," he said. "I'm a pretty good orthopedic surgeon. When my younger son is deployed to Iraq next March, I would like to be working as a Navy medical officer, but they won't let me because I am 61 years old. Will you give me an age waiver, Mr. President?" Mr. Bush pointed to me. Dr. Krissoff and I exchanged business cards and he promised to fax me his application.
I checked him out on the way back to Washington. His reputation was that of an outstanding trauma and sports medicine surgeon. He was also a marathon runner and a really fine person.
Two days later, I placed Bill's application on the president's desk before he met with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I made sure Gen. Pace had the file when he left. He promised to get back soon with an answer. I told him that he would have to get back to someone else: The next day was my last day at the White House. One of the last things I did before turning in my badge was to write Bill Krissoff to wish him well.
A day later, I was in West Texas for the start of dove season. While waiting for the next flight of birds, I realized I hadn't written Mrs. Krissoff. So I sat down that night at the Gage Hotel in Marathon and did. She had already lost her oldest son. Her younger son was preparing to deploy to Iraq. Meanwhile, her husband wanted to give up their comfortable life, career and friends so he could honor their sons by joining the military at age 61. And she had given her full, heartfelt support.
A few weeks later, I received a note saying Bill had received his waiver and a chance to pass basic training. A few months later, I was invited to the commissioning ceremony for Lt. Commander William Krissoff, United States Navy Medical Reserve.
Bill emailed me this April about his duties as a combat surgeon in Iraq. He sent photos of himself with Austin, who is now on his second tour there. This is how father, mother and brother are honoring the sacrifice of Nathan. While sharing this story with the audience last week, I found myself unable to look at Christine until I finished and the crowd rose to applaud her.
Watching the smoke rise from the Battle of Bunker Hill, Abigail Adams wrote her husband John, who was away at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. While she and others lived "in continual Expectation of Hostility," Abigail wrote, "like good Nehemiah, having made our prayer with God, and set the people with their Swords, their Spears, and their bows, we will say unto them, Be not affraid of them."
Christine Krissoff's husband and sons, wrapped in prayers and armed with swords and scalpels, have served our nation with valor. So has she. So long as our nation produces families like the Krissoffs, America will remain not only the greatest nation on earth, but also the most noble in history.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A11