Independence Day 2011

Independence Day 2011
Cpl. Andrew Wilfarht

We celebrate July 4th – Independence Day – for the courage and sacrifice of those who stood up to say “enough – we are all equal.”

I’ve been trying to think of something to write, something that might matter.

And I came across the story of Andrew Wilfarht. A young man – a young gay man – who at the age of 29 decided to enlist in the army. A young man who mattered.

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!”

Andrew loved classical music, was a peace activist, and a math genius. He studied palindromes, maps, patterns, the U.S. Constitution, quantum physics.

At the age of 29, as a gay American, Andrew told his parents he was enlisting in the Army. Among the smartest to enlist, he scored a perfect score on his aptitude test.

When their son wound up in Afghanistan in July 2010, Jeff Wilfarht 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.

Andrew’s infectious smile and confidence made him well liked among his comrades. So well liked that they named a combat outpost after him.

“Although close to my parents and siblings, I generally prefer solitude and introspection, and have but few close associates,” he wrote in an autobiography on his laptop.

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

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 never denied his sexuality. But like so many, he struggled with what it means to be gay in America. Especially a gay American soldier. Yet it was only one part of him. He was much more. His younger sister, Martha, says it’s the least interesting thing about him.

In 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.

This year, Lori and Jeff attended the Twin Cities Gay Pride parade for the first time. “It’s new for us” Lori says.

In a state that has produced GOP presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty — who have made careers fighting gay marriage and LGBT equality — these parents of an American hero are prepared to 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.

Independence Day 2011
Lori and Jeff Wilfarht at their son’s gravesite

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, he lifted his finger and his speech halted. His voice wavered. “I challenge the one-man, one-woman champions to define manliness or womanhood. I hope my son didn’t die for human beings, for Americans, for Minnesotans who would deny him civil rights.”

Jeff says his greatest regret is not hugging his son when Andrew 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.”

Andrew 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, Lori and Jeff buried their son.

In the family library are Andrew’s six medals, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

His final resting spot is among thousands of others at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, a place where Jeff and Lori now come for solitude.

The two stare at the headstone.

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.

We all owe our “independence” to men like Andrew. Men who served our country. But Andrew served the United States while living without equal rights. I don’t know how many ‘Andrews’ there have been in our history. But I know it’s too many.

A remarkable man, his epitaph reads. Remarkable, and independent.

Thank you Cpl. Andrew Wilfarht.

More about Cpl. Andrew Wilfarht at