Army 1st Sgt. Jose San Nicolas Criso-stomo, a leader among the South Sound’s Chamorro community, became the oldest coalition soldier killed in the Afghanistan war when a roadside bomb detonated near his convoy Tuesday in Kabul.
Crisostomo, of Spanaway, would have turned 60 on Aug. 29.
Thirteen NATO troops have been killed in hostile action since Sunday as the Taliban and other insurgent groups intensified their attacks ahead of Thursday’s presidential elections.
In Spanaway, dozens of aluminum chairs lined in neat rows filled the driveway of the Crisostomo home Thursday afternoon. More lined the walls inside the house. The American flag in the front yard flapped at half-staff. The scent of spicy food wafted through the house as relatives cooked for visitors gathering last night to pray the rosary.
Crisostomo joined the Army in May 1969 and served for 24 years, including a tour in Vietnam, his family told the Pacific Daily News of Guam. He rejoined the Army in April 2008 and deployed to Kabul in June 2008. It’s unclear with which unit he served – the Department of Defense has not yet confirmed the death.
Crisostomo is the 316th service member with Washington ties – either from the state or serving at one of its military installations – to die in American military operations since 2001. He is also the second-highest-ranking enlisted Washington soldier to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan; one sergeant major and another first sergeant have died.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia, three children and 10 grandchildren. One daughter died in 2004.
Those who knew Crisostomo, whose nickname was Sinbad, said he was a friendly, outgoing person who always was willing to help someone in need, no matter the circumstances.
The native of Inarajan, Guam, settled in the South Sound when he retired from the Army in 1993. And in 1999, Crisostomo helped found Grupun Minagof, a group of Chamorro Americans who organize fiestas and other events in the local community. The group also raises money to help if someone in the local community loses a family member and provides scholarships for Chamorro youth.
Dozens of pushpins, one for each of his international trips with the military, cover a world map in Crisostomo’s home. But he told The News Tribune in a 2005 interview why he chose to settle down in the Northwest.
“Of all the places I’ve been in or stationed at, Washington state is the one that’s got all of the facilities,” said Crisostomo. “The recreation is right here. My kids love it.”
Julian Mendiola, another veteran, is also part of Grupun Minagof. He first met the burly Crisostomo when the two were stationed in Germany in 1985. They lived four hours apart in military housing, but knew each other because of their ties to Guam.
Mendiola, 61, remembers when he visited Crisostomo for a day, then returned home, only to realize he forgot his work keys at his friend’s home.
He called Crisostomo, who drove four hours in the snowy weather just to drop off the keys.
“Ever since that, me and Joe have been close, man,” Mendiola said.
That level of selflessness was typical for Crisostomo.
“He was willing to help anyone out,” said Norman Ruediger, his next-door neighbor.
Crisostomo was a great neighbor, and Ruediger said he cried with him when Crisostomo’s daughter, Charlotte Marie, died five years ago.
Ruediger recalled how Crisostomo helped him during a recent December snowstorm.
Crisostomo – a handyman who could do everything from electricity to plumbing to building a patio – visited his neighbor, whose water heater was leaking.
Despite icy driving conditions, they piled into Crisostomo’s van, drove to Home Depot, picked up a new heater and installed it all in the same day.
And Crisostomo never asked for anything in return, said his neighbor of more than two decades.
“He never asked for compensation,” Ruediger said. “He would just say, ‘OK, let’s sit down and have a beer.’”
On Wednesday, the first night the family held rosaries to mourn Crisostomo, there were about 100 people at their Spanaway home.
That number is expected to grow as word of his death spreads.
Scott Fontaine: 253-597-8646
Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653