I HAVE BEEN TOLD I DESERVE
“A FULL LIFE THAT ISN’T JUST ABOUT FIGHTING FOR THINGS”

The late Andrew Wilfahrt’s father Jeff read my previous post, in particular the section about his son, and wrote me a thank-you message. I invited Jeff to write whatever he felt appropriate about a little-understood but, I think, crucial aspect of Andrew’s decision to join the U.S. military – his need for manly camaraderie, as I called it. As Jeff describes, “male” camaraderie is probably a better term.

Jeff Wilfahrt’s remarks are reproduced here with permission and gratitude.

I found your post of interest and would like to add some comment and content to your statements.

I speak as the father of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, 552nd MP Company, KIA 2011-02-27, Kandahar, Afghanistan.

My wife and I have been married 33 years. Andrew was our eldest child. He died at the age of 31 and near what would have been his 32nd birthday.

To me it was obvious from his childhood onward that Andrew was not a “boy’s boy.” He didn’t rip the wings off of flies, he didn’t slingshot-break a house window, he didn’t gravitate to roughhousing; rather, he tended towards intellectual things like maps, music, mathematics, and, most telling of all, kindness towards others.

My wife and I have friendships that date back to our own childhoods. Andrew grew up with playmates who were the progeny of old friends. As we all aged and the children entered school cycles, these relationships drifted apart as each child experienced their own divergence and socialization.

As Andrew entered puberty he already knew he was outside the majority, the heterosexual majority. He feigned for a year or two that he was part of that majority, but he was fortunate, perhaps more than many, because quite frankly his sexuality was not an issue to his mother and me.

He found the best comfort in the teen years among teenage girls. They were kinder and far more accepting than his male counterparts. He maintained a few male friends, all of high intellect like himself, but for the most part the female camaraderie won out.

When he attained his driver’s license, he was free to head into the city and join the local gay scene. And join he did. I think it fair to say he came to flaunt his lifestyle to the point where, when he graduated high school, he had already acquired a full embrace of the local community. He dated, he hung out, he partied, and he indulged. But there remained something within that was unrequited.

He went down the dark ladder, by which I imply he dove headlong into drug abuse. It was, after all, a part of the scene from which he sought society. By his mid-20s it caught up with him both physically and spiritually.

He bounced back into our lives and, together with him, his mother and I jumped into that hole of despair and the three of us clawed our way back to wholeness. He rebuilt himself physically and spiritually. He became a routine user of a local gym. He read voraciously the works of philosophers and composers. He redefined his relationships, and I think that is the point where he seriously began to evaluate what he felt had been missing. Some of that was to see how his mother and I had these lifelong deep-seated friendships, and he could not help but ask why this component of life was missing in his.

Having held many insignificant low-paying jobs, and with the age of 30 staring him in the face, he began casting about for a future. He had deferred a college education because he thought it would slow him down. So at the age of 29, as I prodded him at an evening meal to consider applying to college, he announced that for the previous two years he had been contemplating a military career. He lamented that he had passed the age of 28 and thereby missed the opportunity to join the Marine Corps. So now he counseled with Army recruiters about where he might fit in their world. He settled on the Military Police. For him I think this was the right balance of service and function.

Among the things he related to us in his decision was that he sought male camaraderie that he never really found in the local community. As my sister-in-law is quick to point out, “Do people think gays join to get a date?” The answer of course is an unequivocal no.

Each year he would trot off to the Gay Pride festival and each year he would return dismayed by what he considered shallow and at times callous relationships.

It is true that he “closeted” himself upon entry into the Army. He created a cover story about a failed girlfriend and broken heart. As it turns out he never had to use it, to the best of our knowledge.

On his graduation from basic, he related how often the hetero males would dry-hump in the barracks. He was taken aback by this actually. He said he had never seen such behavior among the gay men he knew.

Because he was older than most of the recruits he found an opportunity to be somewhat paternal. He found his maturity to be an advantage, and many of the soldiers he served with appreciated him for his calming demeanor and sagacity. While in basic he was teasingly called Webster after the dictionary of the same name. He came to really like his military life. For him it provided a structure and he liked that. It came with the physical demand to maintain endurance and strength. It came with the challenge of advancement through performance. It came with the notion of unit cohesion; the sense that he was part of a larger thing; that he mattered; that he was among kindred souls.

Before his deployment he spoke of making a career of the military. His devotion to the MP life was his sole focus. He was trained and ready to serve.

Then came road duty, the boring aspect of checking identities and securing perimeters on military bases. He craved more. He applied for the linguistics program. But before he could be transferred he was deployed.

Somewhere around the six-month point he informed us that he had come to understand that Afghanistan was not ready for democracy. He was reconsidering whether a career in the military was really his path. Four months later an IED would take his life on a road just west of Kandahar.

And so he died in a place so far away never having had that one great love in his life. He had friends of the band-of-brother type that he had acquired. His loss was felt even by his commanders in the field. There is a classroom at Ft. Leonard Wood that bears his name. His name is there with others’ in Oahu, HI, and his photo hangs on a battalion wall. A Hawaii service group has named a stretch of road on the eastern shore of Oahu after him. A marble stone at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery bears his name.

And the men and women of the 552nd MP Company bear their grief of loss, along with his family and friends.

So, Mr. Clark, you are correct in your writing. As his mother and I protested in halls of the Minnesota Capitol with a few hundred members of the local community, just a few blocks away the Minnesota Leatherman competition was taking place. Instead of being at the Capitol fighting for rights, they chose to vote for a Leatherman candidate. Andrew would have been at the Capitol fighting for the greater rights of all.

We remain largely unrecognized, along with Andrew. A former Marine sergeant with whom we are acquainted said it best: The gay community is at times their own worst enemy.

Jeff Wilfahrt, father of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt

I can reassure Jeff that he and his son are duly noted and appreciated. I commend Jeff for his acceptance and his candour about his son.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2011.08.17 12:17. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2011/08/17/jeffwilfahrt/

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