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Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt was just two days from leave from the Afghanistan theater when he was killed.

July 2, 2011 10:48 a.m. EDT

Andrew Wilfahrt changed his gait in the weeks before going off to basic
training. He walked more upright. He bulked up with weights. He spoke with a
deep Robocop voice. He acted “manly.”

Through the eyes of his parents, Jeff and Lori, it was all a bit strange.

This was the boy who told them he was gay at 16 after being confronted with
exorbitant bills from Internet chat rooms. Who lobbied for gay rights in his
high school and escaped the fists of football players when hockey players came
to his rescue. Who had the courage to wear pink and green even after his car was
spray-painted with “Go Home Fag!”

All his parents ever wanted was for Andrew to be Andrew.

At 29, he sat his mom and dad down at the kitchen table and told them his
life was missing camaraderie, brotherhood. “I’m joining the Army,” he said.

The news surprised them. Why would Andrew enter the military, where he’d be
forced to deny a part of who he is?

He was a lover of classical music, a composer, a peace activist, a math
genius. He studied palindromes, maps, patterns, the U.S. Constitution, quantum
physics.

A soldier?

It had never really crossed the minds of his left-leaning parents. Yet, just
as they’d done with all three of their children, they supported him. It wasn’t
easy. It became dreadfully painful.

When their son wound up in Afghanistan in July 2010, Jeff awoke early each
day to Google “Kandahar.” He tracked every soldier killed in the far-off
land.

Then, on February 27, 2011, at the same oak table where Andrew said he was
joining up, the Wilfahrts learned their oldest child was gone.

“I want to talk directly to somebody in his platoon!” Jeff told the officer
and chaplain seated across from him. He wanted to know for sure that this wasn’t
a behind-the-shed killing of the gay guy.

Cpl. Andrew Charles Wilfahrt, 31, is believed to be the first gay U.S.
soldier to die in battle since President Obama signed the repeal of “don’t ask,
don’t tell,” the policy forcing gays in the military to hide that part of their
lives or risk being kicked out.

He was also among the smartest in the half-million force, scoring a perfect
score on his aptitude test, a feat the Army says is rare.

Andrew was so well-liked his comrades named a combat outpost for the soldier
with the infectious smile. COP Wilfahrt sits 6 kilometers from Kandahar. To his
buddies, it is not named for a gay soldier, but for one who fought with
valor.

“Mom, everyone knows. Nobody cares,” he told his mother in their final
conversation, a phone call from Afghanistan on Thanksgiving.

In a biography he left on his laptop, Andrew described himself as someone who
“espoused casual solipsism, the idea that ultimately one can know only oneself
and nothing more.

“Although close to my parents and siblings, I generally prefer solitude and
introspection, and have but few close associates,” he wrote.

“I have maintained ‘bachelor status’ with the strictest of discipline, and a
discipline I secretly wish would be compromised by a charming beauty.”

Andrew never denied his sexuality. But like so many, he struggled with what
it means to be gay in America. Yet it was only one part of him. He was so much
more. In the note on his laptop, he never used the words gay or homosexual to
define himself. His younger sister, Martha, says it’s the least interesting
thing about him.

But with his death, his parents have taken up the cause of gay rights. Andrew
fought for his nation in a foreign land. His parents’ war is being waged in
their home state of Minnesota. To them, it’s about defending the Constitution —
protecting the rights of all citizens.

Gay in the land of Pawlenty, Bachmann

The red Toyota Corolla eases through the streets of downtown Minneapolis. The
Wilfahrts are entering a part of their son’s world that was distant to them.
They’re headed from their home in suburban Rosemount to the Twin Cities Gay
Pride Parade, an annual event their son loved.

“It’s new for us,” Lori says .

They ride in solemn silence. Harry Nilsson sings from the speakers:

Remember, life is just a memory
Remember, close your eyes and you can
see
Remember, think of all that life can be
Remember, dream,
Love is
only in a dream
…”

His mother puts her hands to her face and cries. Her son’s dream was to fall
in love and find a job that allowed time to compose music.

“Are you OK, honey?” Jeff asks his wife.

The two have been married for 33 years. Lori works as a project manager for
3M. Jeff had a career there as well, but has been unemployed since the beginning
of the year.

Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt attend their first gay pride parade. They hold a flag signed by their son's comrades.

Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt attend their first gay pride parade. They hold a
flag signed by their son’s
comrades.

The Wilfahrts have the milquetoast looks of middle-age Midwesterners: gray
hair, rimmed glasses, apple-pie ordinary. Yet make no mistake: These lifelong
Minnesotans might be the most powerful force to join the same-sex marriage
movement.

In a state that has produced GOP presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and
Tim Pawlenty — who have made careers fighting gay marriage — these parents of
an American hero present a major challenge to the establishment.

They’ll take their battle to the Supreme Court, if that’s what it takes. To
the Wilfahrts, denying gays the right to marry is discrimination against a group
to which their son belonged.

Jeff has asked Lady Gaga to come to Minnesota to dance a same-sex marriage
polka. He skipped a recent White House tea with the first lady held for families
of service members. He wanted to send a message to the Obama administration: My
son gave his life for his country, yet didn’t have full rights back home.

On a recent spring day, the couple stood outside the Capitol while lawmakers
inside prepared to debate marriage. The legislators voted, largely along party
lines, to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for November 2012 to
define marriage as solely between a man and woman.

Jeff had never spoken much publicly before eulogizing his son. He began by
telling the crowd, “If I hold my finger up, I’m gonna be crying. When you see
that, I need to pause.”

A few minutes later, his finger dangled in the breeze. His voice cracked. “I
challenge the one-man, one-woman champions to define manliness or womanhood.
Will you as a human being, as an American, as a Minnesotan, be asked to open
your trousers or to have your skirt lifted when applying for a license to
marry?

” … I hope my son didn’t die for human beings, for Americans, for
Minnesotans who would deny him civil rights.”

On this day, in the grandstands of the pride parade, the Wilfahrts will
celebrate their son’s identity as both a gay man and a soldier. It’s the type of
event that would stun Bachmann and Pawlenty: More than 100,000 gays, lesbians,
bisexuals, transgenders and straights gathered in their home state, celebrating
life and obeying the law. A Minneapolis police car led the parade, two officers
waving to the jubilant crowd.

The night before, Jeff, 58, and Lori, 56, wondered if they were doing the
right thing by coming. Their son was so private, would he want his mom and dad
to speak out?

Within minutes today, they get their answer. “Thank you for you and your
son’s service,” a man says, offering a hug to Lori. Tears well in the parents’
eyes.

Another stranger, Laurie Kermes, holds Lori’s hand. “Your son did a lot. He’s
not going to be lost in vain.”

Soon, a float goes by carrying two poster-sized photographs of Andrew in Army
camo. “That’s our boy!” Jeff says.

He and Lori embrace. Their heads tilt toward the ground, two exhausted
parents missing their son.

‘I am here to serve’

Andrew met with a retired gay Marine in Minneapolis bars and coffee shops in
the months before signing up. He wanted to know the pros and cons of being gay
in the military.

He’d been volunteering at food shelters, animal shelters, an AIDS hospice,
voter-registration drives and other non-profit initiatives. At 29, he was living
with his parents and looking for more out of life.

The retired Marine says Andrew told him he wanted to serve so a soldier with
a wife and children wouldn’t have to go fight.

“He wasn’t making a statement” about being gay. “He was doing it for
everybody else,” says Dan, who asked that his last name not be used. “He will
forever be my hero because he joined for the right reasons. He was a silent part
of the gay community, but it’s just unspeakable how big of an impact he’s had
now.”

His name and face have been front and center in the state’s debate on gay
marriage.

Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt was just two days from leave from the Afghanistan theater when he was killed.

Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt was just two days from leave from the Afghanistan
theater when he was
killed.

Republican Rep. John Kriesel, who lost his legs while serving in Iraq, sent
Andrew’s photo around the floor during debate in the Minnesota House.

A few years ago, he said, he would have defined marriage as solely between
heterosexuals. But his military service changed that.

“This amendment doesn’t represent what I went to fight for,” he told
lawmakers.

“I cannot look at this family and look at this picture and say, ‘You know
what, Corporal, you were good enough to fight for your country and give your
life, but you were not good enough to marry the person you love.’ I can’t do
that.”

Andrew didn’t have a significant other. If he had, the partner wouldn’t have
been allowed to escort his body home from Dover Air Force Base, nor would he
have received Andrew’s $100,000 death benefit.

Andrew arrived at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in February 2009. The man
with the muscle-builder chest and six-pack abs drew immediate attention when
quizzed by drill sergeants. He spoke in a Robocop voice. He asked question after
question.

Watching him, Kevin Gill wondered: Who is this guy?

“After we became really close, he told me that was his ‘tough man voice’ and
that he used it to show his real ‘manhood,'” Sgt. Gill told CNN in a series of
e-mails from Afghanistan.

Andrew earned the nickname Slovak for his macho speak and exaggerated,
arrow-straight gait. Andrew was like that, a ham who figured out a way to fit
in. When he laughed, he threw his head back, closed his eyes and let out a sound
that made everyone else chuckle.

In combat, he rode with two other soldiers. One was African-American, the
other from Hawaii. They were known as “Team Minority.”

Intelligent didn’t even begin to describe him. Everybody felt smarter just
being around him. Shortly after Andrew arrived on post in Hawaii, a commander
saw his perfect aptitude score and grilled him: What was somebody with such
smarts doing as a grunt?

The Wilfahrts say they will fight for gay rights all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Wilfahrts say they will fight for gay rights all the way to the Supreme
Court.

“Is this some kind of joke, Wilfahrt?”

“No, sir,” he said. “I am here to serve!”

Gill once asked him about World War I. Over the next week, for four hours a
day, Andrew recounted the history of the first World War and all the other U.S.
conflicts up through Vietnam.

Andrew felt a connection to World War I: His great-grandfather, Charles
Wilfahrt, entered battle in the European theater on September 26, 1918.
Ninety-two years to the day, Andrew entered Operation Dragon Strike in
Afghanistan as a member of the 552nd Military Police Company.

The coincidental timing wasn’t lost on him. He always found meaning in
numbers.

The numbers with meaning for him and Gill were their ages. They bonded at
boot camp, where they were the “old” guys. Andrew was 29 at the time. Gill was
39.

The two were like brothers. Their only difference before going to war: Gill
headed to the straight bars during off-time at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
Andrew hit the gay bars. Gill says Andrew always thought military investigators
were following him.

None of his comrades cared about his sexuality. And, guys being guys, they
cracked gay jokes around Andrew. His response: to laugh with them.

He said it was funny that he talked more about his sexuality with his band of
brothers than he ever had with gay friends.

Gill paid close attention and made sure the jokes never got out of hand. One
of his own brothers is gay and moved to Switzerland in the mid-1990s. The two
haven’t seen each other in 16 years, even though he accepts his brother for who
he is. “That’s the tough thing about it.”

Gill says it helped to talk to Andrew. No topic was taboo. They shared
everything: about family, life, the war. Andrew told him how hard it can be to
be gay in America.

One day last fall, the two were doing guard duty at a tower in a Kandahar
police station when Gill’s understanding of what Andrew meant deepened. Andrew
was reading a copy of Time magazine. In it was an article about gay teens who
committed suicide after being bullied.

Andrew began to weep.

“This was more than just a tearful cry. This was all his emotion from the
past just coming out all at once in front of his fellow soldier.”

Andrew’s parents say he struggled with suicidal tendencies in his early 20s.
But every time, the thought of the four people he loved most — his mom and dad,
sister Martha and brother Peter — stopped him.

In Afghanistan, Andrew confided in Gill.

“I just trusted him and was proud to be serving next to him right there on
the battlefield.”

‘A damn good soldier’

It was Sunday, February 27.

Members of the 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon were on foot patrol in a region west of
Kandahar, accompanied by members of the Afghan National Police.

There were 11 of them, and they were familiar with the area. Andrew was ninth
in line as they crossed a bridge toward a police checkpoint. Children
scattered.

A 122-mm mortar round lay hidden along the route.

Kevin Gill wrote this note on an American flag signed by  Andrew Wilfahrt's comrades.

Kevin Gill wrote this note on an American flag signed by Andrew Wilfahrt’s
comrades.

At 11:48 a.m., the massive bomb detonated beneath Andrew. Three other
explosives, daisy-chained together, failed to go off. Gill was 20 meters ahead
of his battle buddy. He’d have been killed, too, if the other bombs had
exploded. He rushed toward Andrew. A medic joined. They were at his side within
seconds.

It felt like a terrible training session. But it was all too real. Andrew’s
legs were blown off, as was his left hand. He’d suffered severe wounds to his
head.

Andrew was the 66th Minnesotan to be killed while serving in the wars in
Afghanistan or Iraq. Some 7,000 miles away, in the Wilfahrt home in Rosemount,
the world shattered.

Their firstborn, the baby who had taken 12 hours of labor to
deliver.

The boy, who at 6 asked his father: “Do you think there is a different
kind of gravity at the edge of the universe?”

The man who told them he loved his band of brothers so much he hoped to
become an Army lifer.

He was gone.

Four months after their son’s death, Jeff and Lori sit at the kitchen table,
the place where Lori says “a lot has gone down.” They both say the Army’s been
good to them. They don’t feel anger, except as Jeff puts it, for “those f–kers
at the Capitol” who voted against same-sex marriage.

Jeff places his son’s autopsy report on the table. “Don’t sanitize it,” he
says.

The document is inside a manila envelope with these words on the outside:

WARNING: The information in the enclosed report is graphically
described for complete accuracy in the physical details of the remains of Andrew
C. Wilfahrt.

“It is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that you read this in the presence of
people that can provide you with emotional support during this time, such as
your minister, a family friend, or a counselor.”

Jeff and Lori read the detailed eight-page report alone, on their own time.

The anti-war activists whose boy once attended protests alongside them never
thought they’d find themselves here, boasting about a soldier son. But they
swell with pride, patriotic pride and gay pride.

Blunt and outspoken, Jeff says his boy didn’t die defending freedom. Don’t
use that politician jargon “crap” around him.

“He died for the soldier to the left and right of him,” he says. “And he was
a damn good soldier.”

Shortly after Andrew’s death, Jeff wrote a letter to his son’s comrades. “A
gay child will take you to places in your heart you did not know existed,” he
said. “Regardless of orientation, I beseech all of you who are parenting now, or
do so in the future, to give them all the love you can muster. At times it feels
like you are bailing the ocean, but do not stop loving your children.”

Ashes at kitchen table

The soldiers of the 552nd are preparing to return home after a year in
theater. They will leave behind Combat Outpost Wilfahrt.

“We will never forget him and are honored to have served with such an
outstanding person,” platoon leader 1st Lt. Brandon LaMar said in a letter
informing the family of the naming of the outpost.

That letter arrived on May 7, what would have been Andrew’s 32nd birthday.
Included in the package were memorial bracelets. The Wilfahrts wear theirs every
day.

Their home has become a shrine.

Some of Andrew’s ashes rest in a brown container near the family table. His
photograph is taped to the outside. Nearby are two teddy bears, one tattered
from his youth, one given to the family in his memory.

Jeff’s greatest regret is not hugging his son when he first told him he was
gay. “This is how it is for an old fool of a man. This moment is the burden I
carry.”

Jeff awakes in the middle of the night. Sometimes, he wanders the house.
He’ll use Google Earth to zoom in on the exact spot where Andrew died. Lori
often cries herself to sleep. She wonders if she’ll ever find the happiness she
once had.

They try to maintain focus. “Andrew had courage. He had guts,” Lori says. “So
I can have guts, too. And maybe it gives his death some meaning or a purpose,
that he didn’t die for nothing.”

The Wilfahrts speak to veterans groups, gay groups, book clubs. Their
message: Our son was an American hero, not someone to be feared because he was
gay.

In an Army cherry chest in the family library are Andrew’s six medals,
including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. They share space with a class
assignment from when he was 10.

“These people are important to me: every good person, friend, etc.,” the boy
wrote. “The one thing I am most thankful for is my family.”

A loveseat across the room is overrun with compact discs, journals and
Moleskine Music Notebooks he carried with him in Afghanistan. Inside are his
scribbled music compositions.

In one leather-bound book, Andrew jotted down favorite quotes.

“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

“Too often we don’t hear the deaf and do not see the blind.”

“What we dream we become.”

His friend, Gill, says the man he will always remember is a great American
hero. “Andrew became that person he always wanted to be.”

Jeff Wilfahrt always reads a poem by William Wordsworth when he visits his son's grave.

Jeff Wilfahrt always reads a poem by William Wordsworth when he visits his
son’s grave.

He was just two days from leave when he was killed. “With luck, I’ll be home
as soon as the 6th,” he said in the last sentence he ever wrote his father.

Instead of greeting their son with hugs on March 6, mom and dad buried their
boy. His final resting spot is among thousands of others at Fort Snelling
National Cemetery, a place where Jeff and Lori now come for solitude.

A lover of literature, Jeff always brings a collection of William Wordsworth.
He flips the pages to “Expostulation and Reply.” He sits on the marble stone
commemorating his son and reads aloud. Lori sits on the ground nearby.

He gets to the last verse and chokes up:

“Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit
upon this old grey stone,
And dream my time away.”

Jeff stands quickly, touching the grey stone with his hand, as if reaching
out to his beloved son from beyond the grave. He trembles and cries. “I can
never get through the last paragraph,” he says. “What the hell’s wrong with
me?”

Lori stands, too. The two stare at the headstone. Tears still streaming down
his face, Jeff says, “It’s just the shits.” He whispers again, “It’s just the
shits.”

They want people to know their son wasn’t a “gay soldier.” He was a great
soldier who happened to be gay. Above all, he was a citizen.

A remarkable man, his epitaph reads.

from:  http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/07/02/gay.soldier.andrew.wilfahrt/index.html?npt=NP1

—————————————————————————————–

Andrew Wilfahrt was born on May 7th, 1979 according to http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=66267706

May 7th, 1979

7 +1+9+7+9 = 33 = his “secret” number = Courageous.  Brave.

——————————————————————————————-

 

 

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