As we celebrate the glories of our military this holiday weekend and the sacrifices of those no longer with us who have given so much to make and keep us safe and free, let us not overlook the disgrace that has been visited upon our wounded veterans by those in high places ignoring their plight and failing to offer them the proper medical treatment and care they deserve.
One month ago Dorothy, daughter Jennifer and I were privileged to participate in: “AN EVENING TO HONOR LCDR ERIK KRISTENSEN, USN, SEAL, ANDOVER ‘91″ in honor of Andover’s only alumnus killed in action during the War on Terror. The story of the two-day event is a treasure of memories shared with his parents, SEALS, alumni, students and faculty. (see below)
Let’s not let the transgressions of our elected officials dim or tarnish the memories of our veterans, but rather resolve to remember the Names, Faces and Contact information of those who would stand in the way of immediate and appropriate action to care for our wounded — and urge them to take the proper action!!
“48” IN HONOR OF ERIK KRISTENSEN
In the Navy, a short weekend is referred to as a “48” (hours). We departed home, Essex, CT, at noon 4/24 arriving at the Andover Inn at 3:PM and would not return until 3:PM 4/26.
The invitation for the event read, “AN EVENING TO HONOR, Non Sibi Role Model Erik Kristensen’91, a signature event of Non Sibi Weekend.” The weekend is a yearly event in which Andover students and Andover Alumni in near and far places engage in projects to help others and better communities in every conceivable way.
LCDR Erik Kristensen, USN, SEAL, PA’91 is the only Andover alumnus killed in action in the War on Terror. Erik was killed along with 7 SEALS and 8 Army Night Stalkers while selflessly leading an operation to save other SEALs trapped in an intense battle during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush in 2005. Their Chinook Helicopter took a hit from an RPG. The recent film “Lone Survivor” chronicled the courageous Red Wings mission (and was screened Friday evening on the Andover campus). Erik is one of the movie’s main characters. The day honoring Erik would be the first all-school event conceived and driven by the Andover and the Military, an affinity group of the Andover Alumni Council.
The drive up to Andover, on a bright, brisk spring afternoon was uneventful except for the expectation of events to come and the slight apprehension of keeping to the strictly prescribed timetable. Friday would be a whirlwind of events crammed into the day starting with a 7:30 breakfast with students and SEALS. At Andover there is a strict curfew. All students must be checked in to their rooms by 10:PM. The curfew dictated the time constraints under which the event committee had to operate in order for the students to participate in all the day’s events.
Plans are one thing. Executing them is another. PA alumni guru Jenny Savino’s genius for imaginative planning and seamless execution, and her ability to sell the solutions was put to the test. In spite of some choppy water, the game plan passed with flying colors. Nothing went awry. The timing was as crisp as any Military evolution and nothing was left to chance. We even had help from beyond. The day was cloudless and bright!
Dorothy and I attended a special dinner on arrival Thursday with core members of the Committee, Harry Flynn’75; Christine Balling’86; Jennifer Savino, officially knows as the Assistant Director, Alumni Engagements and Director of External Relations; Navy SEALs Marcus Rivchin and Ryan Rico and his wife Iordanka Slavov (both SEALs are among a handful who also qualified as SWCC Operators – Special Warfare Craft Crewmen or “Boat Guys;” Harry Flynn, Sr., ’48; and Christopher Capano, Andover’s Coordinator of Special Student Activities. Marcus and Ryan set a tone at dinner that would resonate throughout the two days and be enhanced and embellished as the ranks of participants grew.
Two words would be heard time and again in speeches, conversations at meals and small talk among all present from that first dinner to meals and bar gatherings well into the nights: FAMILY! and TEAM!
Two Latin phrases appear on Andover’s Seal, forged by Paul Revere 4/5/1782 for which he was paid 2 pounds, 8 shillings: Finis Origine Pendet, “The end depends on the beginning” and Non Sibi, “Not for self.” It is not a stretch to take from those words the meaning of FAMILY and TEAM.
7:30 AM Friday – Special guests and SEALs had breakfast with students at the Paresky Commons. Admiral and Erik’s mother, Mrs. Kristensen, arrived at noon in time for the 1:00 luncheon at the Inn as more SEALs, rowing crewmates and friends from The Naval Academy, Gonzoga High School, and Andover began to arrive.
3:00 PM- We caravanned in several cars to the Brown Boat House on the Merrimack River for a tour and special presentation of oar paddles on which Erik’s name was inscribed. The Kristensens were photographed reading a special plaque in the main reception room honoring Erik’s service. Dale Hurley presented Andover Crew hats to the SEALs, and Erik’s friends and crewmates. Harry Flynn ’75 spearheaded this effort.
4:45 PM- We returned and gathered at Memorial Place in time for the touching 5:00pm Memorial Service. Commander Robert Patrick ’88, Deputy Executive Assistant to The Chief of Naval Operations, described the significance of the WWI Memorial Bell Tower and the meaning of the gathering. Reverend Anne Gardner called for a moment of silence, “Please join me for a moment of silence to remember our fallen comrade.” The Bell rang twice with an 8 second interval. Rear Admiral Thomas L. Brown II remarked on the meaning of service and duty. The choir sang The Navy Hymn, joined by the hundreds of students, SEALs, faculty and guests, as the sun began to settle behind the Bell Tower directly in front of us, against the backdrop of a crystal clear blue sky.
5:30 PM- Dinner was served in the Commons. Reverend Anne Gardner said grace. We were seated at a table with The Khristensens, Head of School John Palfrey, Medal of Honor recipient Thomas ’43 and Mrs. Hudner, Tom Beaton ’73, Alumni Trustee and President of the Alumni Council, Commander Rob Patrick ’88, Harry Flynn ’48, Harry Flynn ’75, Marcus Rivchin, and Ryan and Mrs. Rico.
Alumni Council President Tom Beaton opened the program and introduced Andover seniors Greer Sallick ’14 and Elizabeth Kemp ’14. They explained the Operation Hawkeye t-shirt they and other students were wearing that were being sold to fund a scholarship established for Andover Summer Session to be awarded to the son or daughter of a veteran whose parent served or was serving in the military. Harry Flynn ’75 also spearheaded the t-shirt effort by coordinating Andover students with their counterparts at Gonzaga High School, Washington, D.C., from which Erik graduated before spending senior year at Andover.
Operation Hawkeye began when Will Thomas age 11 from McLean, VA, learned of the crash of a Chinook helicopter 8/6/2011 in Afghanistan killing 30 soldiers, including 8 Afghan soldiers and a military dog. Will was outside shooting baskets with his Dad and asked him what he could do to help. His dad suggested shooting baskets in return for donations. Will named the effort “Operation Hawkeye” after the loyal pet of one of the victims. At the soldier’s funeral the dog refused to leave the casket. Will didn’t stop shooting until he reached $50,000 having shot 20,317 baskets and admitting that he was a little sore. This years goal is $310,000, $10,000 for each soldier and the dog that died in the helicopter crash. With permission, Andover adapted his t-shirt idea and modified the design to raise money for a Summer Session scholarship.
Charlie Dean ’79, West Point ’82, editor of “The Blue Guidon,” the newspaper of Andover, and the Military thought of and raised funds for the striking of a lapel pin designed with Andover’s crest for Andover’s Veterans. He explained the pins and asked Rob Patrick to present the first pin to Admiral Kristensen. Each Andover Veteran then stood and received his pin from an Andover student. Harry Flynn pinned his proud Dad. Harry Sr. and I were roommates on the USS Preston (DD- 795) in 1955. It was Harry’s first trip back to campus since 1947.
6:30 PM- The Cochran Chapel program began. As we took our seats, a riveting loop of pictures was shown on three side by side screens at the front of the Chapel depicting Erik, his SEAL mates, football and crewmates, family, and friends and pictures of the BUDS training rigors.
Co-student Presidents Junius Williams ’14 and Clark Perkins ’14 opened the program and recognized all the veterans present. They introduced Head of School John Palfrey. John recognized Admiral and Mrs. Kristensen and provided a warm welcome to all in attendance. He then read a very moving letter from President George H. W. Bush. Commander Rob Patrick then read an equally moving letter from President George W. Bush.
The Kristensens were invited to the podium. John Palfrey and Rob Patrick presented them with the framed letters. All 1000 plus stood and applauded. Mrs. Kristensen then read a letter from Ben Smith, one of Erik’s Andover classmates, about their son. Admiral Kristensen read a letter from a fellow SEAL. Again all 1000 plus stood and applauded as they retuned to their front row pew. The beautiful Fidelio choir led us in singing America.
6:45 PM- The movie Lone Survivor began.
8:45 PM- A lively Q&A with 5 of the Navy SEALS was moderated by Commander Patrick, Christine Balling ’86 and Harry Flynn ’75.
Much as Erik’s life was way too short, what he accomplished in his short time will be forever remembered. A new sense of family was created among the planners, the SEALS, and Erik’s family and friends. The students had a first hand look at life, service, duty and sacrifice from a different perspective.
I have never been prouder of my country, my school, my family, and being part of Andover and the Military. My never-ending admiration for Erik, understanding his sacrifice and seeing where his strength and values came from — Admiral and Mrs. Kristensen — will stay with me always. I thank them for the example they have set for all of us.
George S.K. Rider