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In Iraq, a father gains connection but not closure

Dr. Bill Krissoff joined the Navy medical corps after his son was killed on duty, hoping for a sense of completing his son's task. He returns to Camp Pendleton after months in Anbar province.

October 26, 2009|Tony Perry

RANCHO SANTA FE, CALIF. — When Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Krissoff deployed to Iraq earlier this year, his assigned job was to serve as a physician at the military hospital in Anbar province.

But he had a private mission as well: to pay homage to his oldest son, Marine Lt. Nathan Krissoff, killed by a roadside bomb outside Fallouja in December 2006.

After his son's death, Krissoff closed his orthopedic practice in Truckee in Northern California and sought to enlist in the Navy medical corps and serve in a war-zone unit caring for Marines. He was 60.

When his application for an age waiver got bogged down, a push from the White House sped the process. He and his wife, Christine, had met President Bush as part of a group of family members of military personnel killed in action.

Krissoff did months of training, then deployed to Iraq with a medical unit from Camp Pendleton in January. Christine Krissoff moved the household to a spacious home in this northern San Diego County suburb.

At the hospital at Taqaddum, Bill Krissoff patched up sailors and Marines, commonly with shoulder and knee injuries. The war's intensity has declined in Anbar, so there were only a few blast injuries like the one that killed his oldest son.

While Krissoff was in Iraq, his younger son, Marine Lt. Austin Krissoff, 26, was serving at the nearby base at Al Asad. In recent weeks, father and son finished their missions and returned to Camp Pendleton.

"I wanted a sense of completing Nathan's unfinished task," Krissoff said last week. "I think both Austin and I were doing that with this deployment."

Now 63, Krissoff is assigned to the medical staff at the Camp Pendleton hospital. He has an age waiver until 67 and would be willing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Being in Iraq, he said, helped him understand what his son experienced but did not soften the pain of his loss. Krissoff opted not to visit the site where his son was killed.

"I don't think you get closure -- at least I don't," he said. "Life goes on. I was just happy to do my part."

Like many families of fallen military personnel, Bill and Christine Krissoff went through grief counseling. They think of Nathan every day.

While her husband and son were gone this year, Christine Krissoff, 58, was busy closing one household and opening another. A horse enthusiast, she rode during the day. But the nights in an empty house were challenging.

She said she understood the need her husband and younger son felt to go to Iraq. "These are the kind of men they are," she said. "I'm very proud to have men like that in my life. We're a military family now."

Still, there are limits. "If Bill asked to go to Afghanistan, we're going to have to talk," she said. "I think we've done a great deal."

In his study at their new home, Bill Krissoff's shelves are lined with books about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the walls are family pictures and a display of photos of Nathan in Iraq with his fellow Marines and with an Iraqi man he befriended.

Krissoff tends to answer questions directly and without hesitation. Only when asked what Nathan would have thought of him deploying to Iraq did he pause.

"I think he'd have been proud," he said quietly.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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