Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, a gay Minnesota man who went back in the closet to join the military, died Sunday while on patrol in Afghanistan when an IED exploded during an attack on his unit. He was 31. And his mother loved him very, very much.
Believed to be the first gay Minnesota soldier to die in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Wilfahrt (pronounced WIHL’-furt), who enlisted in the Army in January 2009 and was deployed to Afghanistan that July, “was a gentle soul,” says his mother Lori. “He was very kind and compassionate. He was interested in a lot of things, but more at a level of detail than what I think most people pursue something. He was fascinated with numbers, and patterns with numbers and palindromes. He would often spot a series of numbers and say, ‘Well, if you add up your birthday and your birthday it equals this.’ Or, ‘All of our birthday dates combined equals our home address.’ Just odd things like that.”
He joined the military, Lori says, because he “tried to grow up. He really turned out to be an interesting, wonderful young man. But I think he still sought something else. He was looking for a purpose, a life of meaning.”
As for his sexuality, being gay and joining the military concerned Lori “a lot. I think it concerned him as well. He spent a lot of time thinking about it and he came to terms with it. He knew he would have to go back in the closet, that he would have to keep that to himself. And he did, for at least part of his stay in the Army. But when I talked to him (or when he wrote maybe) when he was in Afghanistan, he said nobody cares. He said, ‘Everybody knows, nobody cares.’ He said, ‘Even the really conservative, religious types, they didn’t care either.’ He said it’s about something else.”
Today, flags in Minnesota are flying at half-mast, on an order from Gov. Mark Dayton.