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A Meaningful Life

by

Lori Wilfahrt

Our son, Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, age 31, was killed in action February 27 while on foot patrol outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is painful to think that he will never come home again. However, we remember him well and are reminded daily of what a truly remarkable son and brother he was.  The love and support from family, friends, the Army family and even complete strangers, softens the blow a little.

We are not a church-going family but that didn’t mean that our parenting didn’t include discussions around morals, ethics or religions. And we had a few simple rules. Be responsible. Do your part. Laugh and have fun. Be nice. Share.

We are not a military family.  Older relatives served a long time ago, but we didn’t know much about military life or culture. There was stunned silence at the dinner table when Andrew announced that he was joining the Army. What was he thinking? He was messy and not always punctual. He was a peace-loving person, he challenged authority on an intellectual level, he respected life and he was gay.

We are a lucky family to have had Andrew. He was a beautiful child: sweet, curious and kind.  He had a silly sense of humor and as he grew up he loved all things ridiculous and absurd. Numbers, palindromes and patterns were a constant source of entertainment for him. But his passion was classical music, especially Bach. He composed and played the piano at a young age and his love of music continued into adulthood. He carried a notebook with him so he could write down ideas for new compositions. He disliked pop culture and ignored it entirely. He encouraged everyone he knew to take time to be creative, to write, paint, build, or to just dream.

Andrew struggled as a teenager and young adult.  He wasn’t a popular kid in high school. We loved and accepted him but couldn’t always help him, except to give him a safe place to land when he needed it. Over time, Andrew was fortunate enough to like who he was and could be his sweet, curious, kind and gay self, comfortably. He was a strong individual and sure of himself when he enlisted.

People join the military for all kinds of reasons I suppose: family precedence, lack of job opportunities, the GI bill, patriotism. After years of working at low-paying, dead-end jobs, Andrew was looking to do something else. He wanted a life of meaning and purpose. He wanted to participate. As he explored the possibility of enlisting, he came to terms with taking orders, carrying a gun, witnessing violence and closeting himself to comply with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy put in place before he was old enough to register.

On a cold January night, we dropped Andrew off at the local army enlistment center. We hugged him, wished him luck, said goodbye. During that first year in the army, he worked hard, strengthening his body and mind. He proved to himself and others that he would protect and defend his fellow soldiers. He became a friend and confidant to many, providing comic relief during times of boredom or tension. Eventually, he shared that he was gay and soon everyone knew. And no one cared. People liked him and knew they could depend on him. In Andrew’s military experience it was loyalty and friendship that mattered; not sexual preference.

While leaders in the government and military argue over the repeal of DADT and its details, our soldiers, gay or straight, follow the orders given to them by those same leaders.  Yet, on the ground, what matters is if the man or woman next to them will do their part, cover and protect them, be a friend. Sexuality is inconsequential.

Andrew cared about people; all kinds of people, those on the fringes, the ignored, people in pain.  He taught us a lot about love and acceptance, being patient with people and that change comes slowly. Andrew didn’t ever want us to worry or be sad. I wonder what he’d be thinking about us now.

Andrew had a short but meaningful life. He proved to be a responsible and dependable soldier and friend. He didn’t join the army to find a date. He served so someone else didn’t have to. He was a nice guy. He did his part.

  2011 Gay Military Signal