Lori Wilfahrt remembers the day her son Andrew told her he was joining the military.
"I was speechless," Wilfahrt said. "I thought, 'How on earth did you come to this?'"
Andrew Wilfahrt was a peace activist, she said. Numbers fascinated him, and classical music was his passion. Like his mother, he opposed the U.S. wars in the Middle East.
He was also gay, and "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was still the law of the land. Wilfahrt was concerned about homophobia, and his mother was, too. But he said he needed the structure, so he went back into the closet and off to Basic Training.
Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, 31, of Rosemount died Sunday in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his patrol with an improvised explosive device.
He is the first known gay member of the military from Minnesota to be killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lori Wilfahrt spoke with MPR's Morning Edition about her son.
Cathy Wurzer: Tell us about your son. We hear he was a gentle soul.
Lori Wilfahrt: He was a gentle soul. 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 was a very interesting person. I think he was very learned without going to traditional college system. He read a lot, he loved plays. He really loved music -- that was his passion. He composed music, he was a classical musician but not trained. He was self-taught. He spent many hours doing things like this and pursuing his own education.
Wurzer: Why did he join the military?
Wilfahrt: He had spent many years after high school going from job to job, wondering what he should do with himself. He moved home when he was about 24. He lived with us for five years, and I think 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. I think he missed the camaraderie of a group of people that would be working together toward something.
Wurzer: You must have been concerned when he said he was going to join the military.
Wilfahrt: I was speechless. I thought, 'How on earth did you come to this?' He was kind of a peace activist and he hated war, and there was nothing in his life that indicated that he would ever be interested in the military, so yeah I was surprised.
Wurzer: He was also gay. How much did that concern you knowing he was joining the military?
Wilfahrt: It did 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.
Wurzer: What did he get out of it?
Wilfahrt: When he said he was joining the military, he needed structure and discipline, which was true. But it was kind of funny, because that was always something he kind of rebelled at. He didn't like structure; he did not really like authority when he was a younger teenager and young man. But I think he needed to know what he was going to do when he got up every morning and he didn't have to hide that from himself. I think that was part of it. I think he really ended up really loving being with a group of people every day and working together toward something. I think he made some pretty tight connections when he was there with people, and I think that's what he got out of it.
Wurzer: Who has supported you since your son died?
Wilfahrt: Certainly our friends and family, we have very wonderful friends and family members, and all of our children have come home. All of that has been very helpful, but I have to say, the Army -- I had some stereotypes and preconceived notions about the Army and the military, but they have been amazing. They have been with us the whole way. They've been very careful and respectful. They've taken care of things, and they've told us what to expect. In fact, yesterday we had a phone call from four people from his unit that are still in Afghanistan, and they called our house to give us their condolences and to talk about Andrew. I just think they've bent over backwards to help us, and I just didn't know that this is what they were.