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Uncommon Heroes


Denny Meyer

In the midst of all the major news affecting the masses of humanity here and around the world, a local tragedy went almost unnoticed in a small town in Minnesota.  Another American soldier was killed in combat in Afghanistan and his family and friends mourned at home.  His mother, Lori Wilfahrt, was interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio, his father, Jeff Wilfahrt, by CNN.  Despite their unspeakable grief, both spoke up to say that their soldier son was gay.  They didn't have to do that at all; it could have remained something that family and friends sighed about privately along with their hugs and tears.  They did that, I believe, in order to give their son's sacrifice some greater meaning, to give their mourning a purpose in addition their personal tragedy.  On February 27th, 2011, Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt thus became the second "known" American gay service member to be killed in action in the current Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.  The first was Major Alan Rogers age 40, killed in combat by an IED, aboard a Humvee in Iraq on January 27th, 2008.  No doubt there are more gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in silence about who they really were.

Major Rogers had been active in American Veterans For Equal Rights, the LGBT veterans organization, and his friends knew that he would have wanted his sacrifice in the fight for Iraqi freedom to hold meaning in the fight for freedom here at home as well.  Articles about Alan Rogers include those in Gay Military Signal and The Washington Post, among others.

Major Alan Rogers, on his second tour in Iraq, had been training Iraqi troops when he was killed.  Overcoming an impoverished childhood, he had earned a masters degree in policy management and was also an ordained minister.

As Roger's friend Tony Smith wrote shortly after his funeral, "a part of his life, his sexual orientation, was still hidden, and for many of his gay friends, we didn’t find out about his death until a month later. If he had a partner, he would have never received a call or visit from a casualty officer. Even in death our friend Alan’s life was compartmentalized."

"What is most disheartening to me as a gay veteran," Smith wrote, "is that on the day before my friend Alan Rogers was killed in combat -if the Army found out he was gay then suddenly he wouldn’t be qualified to continue serving the country he loved. But the next day he was a hero for giving his life for his country. But he couldn’t, even in death, be identified as a gay hero."

Another friend, Sharon Alexander, wrote that Rogers shielded two others from the blast that killed him, who likely would have been killed were it not for Alan’s bravery.

Cpl. Andrew Charles Wilfahrt's service to his nation was an uncommon act of selfless sacrifice. He was from a peace oriented family.  And yet his father told me that his grandfather, Andrew's great grandfather Charles, had served heroically in World War I as a member of 3rd Battalion, 308th Liberty Division (of NY) which was involved in the rescue of survivors of 'The Lost Battalion' during the Meusse-Argonne Offensive.  His father told me that soldiers don't die for patriotism, political agendas, or other reasons, "they die for each other."  Andrew shielded another soldier, a family man, who survived.  In an article in this issue of Gay Military Signal, Andrew's mother tells the rest of his story, from her heart.

According to his parents, Andrew joined because, as a single gay man, he could do his part by perhaps taking the place of a man with a wife and children and spare them the loss should he perish in battle.  In fact, he did just that.

He was killed while on a foot patrol outside Kandahar.  "I'm so proud of his service," his father told CNN.

The catastrophe in Japan and the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa affect all of humanity.  But, the simple Midwestern grace and dignity of Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt's parents in sharing their grief with us gives hope that our humanity will prevail.

  2011 Gay Military Signal