By Wayne Drash, CNN
It started with a Facebook status update. Upset at the media's coverage of Charlie Sheen, someone took up for American soldiers dying in Afghanistan.
"Charlie Sheen is all over the news because he's a celebrity drug addict," it said, "while Andrew Wilfahrt 31, Brian Tabada 21, Rudolph Hizon 22, Chauncy Mays 25, are soldiers who gave their lives this week with no media mention. Please honor them by posting this as your status for a little while."
The status update has since gone viral, shared by tens of thousands on Facebook. An abbreviated version is on Twitter.
When a friend of mine posted the message on her Facebook page, it was a sobering reminder of the news media’s failings of covering the Afghanistan war. I kept returning to the names of the four soldiers. Who were these men? What’s their story?
I started by calling the father of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt (pronounced WILL-fort) in Rosemount, Minnesota.
“I think it’s spot on,” Jeff Wilfahrt said of the viral post.
His 31-year-old son was killed while on foot patrol outside Kandahar on February 27, around the same day the Sheen media blitz kicked into high gear.
“From the Charlie Sheens to Lindsay Lohans, who are these people and what good have they done in society?” Jeff Wilfahrt said. “What are we collectively doing as a society? How do you wake people up?
“In part, sir,” he said, “I blame the press.”
Andrew Wilfahrt was a Renaissance man with an infectious laugh. In his obituary, his parents described him as “compassionate, smart and witty. He was an admirer, composer and player of music who believed deeply in art and humanity. Andrew was fascinated by math, palindromes, maps, patterns, mashed potatoes and the absurd.”
He was also anti-war - part of a “strong family of lefties” from Minnesota, his father said. Andrew stunned everyone when he announced two years ago he was joining the Army.
“He didn’t have a child and a wife,” Jeff Wilfahrt said. “In a way, he went over so that somebody with a young family wouldn’t die.”
The grieving father added, “He was a gay soldier.”
His son agonized over the decision to join the military because Andrew knew he’d have to keep his sexuality a secret. He kept quiet when he first signed up, but his fellow soldiers knew.
“Andrew told me one of the reasons he wanted to enlist was that he felt guilty as a civilian when so many men with wives and children were separated from their families," one of his comrades posted on Facebook. "He joined the fight so that guys like me didn’t have to. He is my hero, my friend, and I miss him. Sleep well, buddy. You earned it.”
Andrew’s younger sister, Martha, said the “least interesting thing” about her brother was his sexuality.
“Quite frankly,” the father said, “nobody gave a s*** he was gay. He was a good soldier.”
His mother, Lori Wilfahrt, told Minnesota Public Radio her son was an “interesting, wonderful young man” who joined the service because he was “looking for a purpose.” Andrew wanted to be with a “group of people that would be working together toward something.”
In a recent letter home, he told his mother that “everybody knows … [and] nobody cares” about his homosexuality. In combat, he rode with two other soldiers. One was African-American, the other from Hawaii. The unit called them "Team Minority."
“He was a gentle soul and he was very kind and compassionate,” said Lori Wilfahrt.
As Sheen’s every comment was dissected on TV and plastered across the internet, the Wilfahrts quietly buried their son.
“In exchange for a son, we got a flag and a bunch of medals,” his dad said. “That’s a helluva tradeoff.”
He’s torn by all that’s happened. Jeff Wilfahrt said he’s always been a peace activist and staunch opponent of war, yet he added, “I’m so proud of him and his service.”
His voice breaks. It’s likely his son is among the first gay soldiers to die in combat since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in December. “I’d do anything to honor my son.”
'Truly an American hero'
From Texas to Nevada to California, three other families mourned loved ones mentioned in the viral post. I was unable to reach those families, but I pieced together these snapshots from local reports and Army news releases.
Spc. Brian Tabada was the youngest soldier honored in the Facebook status update. A fire support specialist with the 101st Airborne, he was killed February 27 in northeastern Afghanistan when his patrol was ambushed by insurgents using small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
He joined the Army in 2008 and quickly earned an array of medals, including the Army Achievement Medal.
His mother met his flag-draped coffin at Dover Air Force Base and escorted her son’s body home to Las Vegas. Nevada’s governor ordered flags at half-staff.
“Tabada made the ultimate sacrifice and we are forever grateful,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a written statement. “I believe it is right to honor his life, service and his sacrifice.”
Spc. Rudolph Hizon, a 22-year-old Los Angeles native, was killed when insurgents attacked his brigade with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan’s eastern Logar province.
A Bronze Star recipient, Hizon was best known for his radiant smile and love of life. Hizon enlisted with the Army in January 2009 and was deployed to Afghanistan last October.
“I will always think of him as the happy and cheerful person he was,” Spc. Joshua Gonzales told Task Force Patriot public affairs. “I’m going to miss him dearly.”
“He is truly an American hero,” Tito Pong wrote on a Los Angeles Times obituary tribute page. “We are very proud of him and we are very much going to miss him.” Added Pfc. Lorien Rilate, “You had such a big heart and you always knew how to make someone feel better.”
In the eastern corner of Texas, residents in the town of Cookville honored Staff Sgt. Chauncy Mays, a father of two young girls. Mays, a member of the 10th Mountain Division, was killed February 28 in eastern Afghanistan’s Wardak province.
A highly decorated soldier, Mays worked as an explosives ordnance disposal technician; the Army credits him with saving countless lives for disarming hidden bombs in the region.
“He was a leader who led from the front,” Army Sgt. Chandara Hak told Task Force Patriot public affairs. “He was always careful, but never fearful. I will do my best to follow in his example.”
Army Capt. Aaron Teller said Mays epitomized the best of the American soldier. “He would give you the shirt off his back without hesitation.”
Those were traits Mays displayed even in high school. "He cared about people and worked hard to encourage them," his teacher, Josh Stegall, said at a memorial service. "He lived to serve."
Since February 26, when the Sheen story began dominating headlines, at least 13 U.S. troops have died in support of the Afghanistan war. Besides the four honored in the Facebook post, seven others were Sgt. Kristopher Gould, 25; Spc Christopher Stark, 22; Pfc. David Fahey, 23; Spc. Jason Weaver, 22; Cpl. Jordan Stanton, 20; Staff Sgt. Mark Wells, 31; and Pfc. Kalin Johnson, 19.
Senior Airman Nicholas Alden, 25, and Airman Zachary Cuddeback were killed in a March 2 attack on troops at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany.
Italian Lt. Massimo Ranzani, 36, and British Lance Cpl. Liam Richard Tasker were also killed in Afghanistan in late February and early March. Another British soldier whose name has not been released was killed Wednesday.
As I looked at the names of those who’ve died in the last two weeks, I thought about my phone conversation with Jeff Wilfahrt.
“Get this on the front headlines,” he said, “and make people aware of what’s going on.
“That’s what I’d do if I was king. But I'm just an unemployed 58-year-old man in Minnesota who misses his son.”
Check out CNN.com’s Home and Away special dedicated to fallen troops
And CNN tries to run a "the media is awful" story, except they continue to ramble on about Charlie Sheen on Twitter while one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history creates a tsunami that will likely have killed thousands.
What a true hero. Today's media and the comments left show what people in our country have become. I am for the first time ashamed to be an American. I used to be so proud of our country, and now I see it for what it is. How did everyone become so ignorant? I hope I never hear the name Charlie Sheen again!
RIP brothers in arms.
charlie sheen should be sent to Iraq or afganistan to join and fight alongside americas finest , to earn some real tv coverage, and respect and not embarass himself and his country as he has done!!!
G-d speed boys ,,, hurrah!
First, CNN needs to start getting its act together – daily, every hour, for at least 10 minutes have a tribute to those who died serving overseas, not just Afghanistan. Pay homage to those who volunteered to protect and defend our freedoms daily. Second, this is a great article because it should be an example to those who oppose DADT that who someone sleeps with does not make a difference in their mission capability. As a closeted gay soldier I have to violate the "Honor" factor of the 7 Army Values, because there are knuckle heads who think that who I sleep with makes me a bad soldier – maybe they need to talk to my First Sergeant and CO, then they may think otherwise. Lastly, to the father of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt: There are no words that can bring you comfort, but I thank you for raising a good man. I hope those words will give you some peace.
What the hell has Charlie Sheen done for this country? Besides giving Americans a drug induced and crazed perception to the world. To Hell with Sheen and Lohan, both are spoiled and don't care, try to morph the world around them. Yet men and women die daily fighting for their freedoms, human rights, and will to live. I say that the US Media and World Media should not do reports on Celebrities and crazed reality shows. That is all I see and hear about on TV, in Newspapers, and on the tongues of people about reality Shows or some drama that has no bearing on their lives.
Wait, so, due to everyday people generating a meme regarding soldiers dying in another country, you decided to switch from reporting Charlie Sheen to actual news? Honestly, what do we need CNN for anyways? You certainly aren't covering the news... Oh, I mean, welcome to the party latecommer.
Don't forget about PFC David Fahey and SPC Jason Weaver of the 170th that gave the ultimate sacrifice this week. Forever in our hearts, American Heroes!
Goosie, I know of them, and they are not an oversight. There are thousands of dead soldiers. Their voices can only be heard through us. "If all the war dead came back, it would end!"
I am terribly sorry for your loss. May God bless you and keep you and your family. Please know your family will be in my thoughts and prayers. While I cannot imagine the grief you are going through, may you find comfort knowing that I believe we have tragically lost a hero on Earth, but God has gained one in heaven. May God bless and keep you and your family safe. I am forever grateful to your son for his sacrifice for my freedom. God bless!
After sitting here for several hours and reading the posts... I am flabbergasted. No one likes war. No one "starts" a war just for the hell of it. Our soldiers are there to protect the ideals of democracy. My son, who is no longer with us, was a Marine and I am very proud of him. My daughter is currently serving her third tour of duty in Afghanistan... because she goes where her skills are needed. I am so proud of her, but I also know that she is in imminant danger just by being there. I would rather have her at home, but she feels the need to serve our country. When ignorant people say things like some of the previous posts... I am ashamed for them. I am furious that they don't appreciate the soldiers who give their lives, to give them the right to talk like an idiot. Yes... our American soldiers protect everyone's First Amendment right to say what they feel. In America we have more freedom than most of the world. I know this because my father was a "lifer" and I grew up as a "brat", traveling around the world where ever his country needed him. And I am damn proud of it and him. But... you better not ever show up at my door spouting your anti-America or anti-soldier retoric, because the men and women in service to our country also defend my right to bear arms.... and I will fight to the death to defend that right....
Would you all some cheese with those whines??
Gimme a break.
Sorry, but these peoples are dying while they are foolishly engaged in fighting illegal wars and terrorizing people who have done them no wrong. You all are going to feel real stupid when everyone understands finally that all this terrorist BS is a product of our very own government's CIA and its attempts to control everything.
This inspires me to make a video about the # of Americans lost in the war, versus the # of people killed in the war by the hands of Americans.
As a mother of 3 teenage boys, my heart goes out tho the parents of these soldiers. It makes me angry that we still have politicians fighting to not allow gays in the military and we still have soldiers that have had their medals stripped and have been kicked out of the military because of don't ask don't tell. These men were hero's, and who cares if one man was gay. His soldiers didn't care, and if it were up to some of these politicians, he could have been kicked out of the military.One of my closest friends leaves in June for her second tour . God Bless all of our soldiers!
I am sorry to hear about the loss of all these brave men. There are so many people deployed right now that die on a daily basis, and they don't get the recognition they deserve. You really won't know how it affects you until you have it happen to someone in your family. I am active duty and have done 2 deployments, and will definately see a 3rd. I hope I never have to give my life for this cause, but at least if it happens, I know my family would be proud, and there are people that still do care about the military. I got thanked today for serving in the Navy, and didn't know what to say. I feel like I am just doing my job, but to someone else, it's much more than that. My deepest sympathy goes to the families of fallen service members.
@KING kardashian! I got another 30 days state side before i get deployed to the desert Again! I wish to god I could meet you before I left. I would love to put your sorry ungrateful ass 6 feet under..
Not sure what your job is, but I can tell it's not OPSEC related. Ignore this guy and don't threaten anyone–especially when you have a name that relates to the AF. We're better than that, and you know it.
Good job Obama more Soldiers have died in Afghanistan since your first 2 years than in 8 Years under Bush..
I've seen a few complaints in here that CNN is evil or whatever for reporting on the Charlie Sheen nonsense. I'd support the idea of remembering these and other soldiers, and I think the Charlie Sheen nonsense is pretty stupid, but the blame for the existence of coverage of the Charlie Sheen nonsense is with us. CNN gives us what we want, and as much as we argue that we don't want that, enough of us are at least slightly interested in that kind of garbage that CNN telling us about it is just giving us what we want.
If there are two stories, one of which says that Charlie Sheen had a melt-down, and the other of which says that a soldier died in Afghanistan, it's completely obvious which is going to get more hits. CNN knows this.
Mericans couldn't care less about their soldiers, it interferes with their good times, everyday all the time. Look at the gluttons you are producing, stuffing their faces, watching their favourite reality TV. Proud creators of Huckabee, Palin, Limbaugh and Beck. A once proud nation has become a country of fat people and clowns.
Go and hug a tree you leftist liberal.
You want to block out Sheen news? Try this.
Hey CNN, your Facebook LIKE link is broken.
People need to wake up and support our troops whether you are for or against the war!!!!!
To Jeff, and all other parents of these brave men, my heart sinks with your loss. I had lost my best pal back in June in Logar, and several other buddies throughout my deployments. I just left active duty to come back to a wife I've spent 8 months with since 2006, and a 3 year old son I don't know. I've discovered this world just kept spinning. The endless days and nights I've spent over there will never really mean too much to anyone. How could it? How would I know about Katrina? I wasn't there. What do I really know about starvation in Africa. I haven't been through that. Coming back home, I've found it's really hard to believe everything you read.....especially from a CNN, or Fox News bias. If this is where our anti-war bloggers are formulating their opinions about what's going on, then please allow me to shed some light on the "real" world/war, because honestly....I've been there. It's a bad situation, but EVERYTHING happens for a reason. Maybe some of America can't see it yet, but the pieces on the chess board are moving strategically into position. We are keeping close tabs on these anti-American/Christian/Jew Nazis. They hate you so much. They want you dead in the name of their god. One day pretty soon they'll be laying IEDs down on your street, or in your mall. They are here. They're just sleeping right now. I hope you're not sleeping America, or too captivated with Charlie. Personally, I think he's pretty funny, but who gives a crap about what I think. I've also realized since I came back to my smug, self-serving nation is apparently, no one really cares about any of you, or what any of you think other than your family. It is just the consensus in our God mocking land. Wow, I just realized.....I really need to get on with life myself.
Isn't it CNN's fault that we read about Sheen and not about Afghanistan daily? I just find it rather funny they are touting this story as important when they, the largest news organization in the world, are the ones who are responsible for the practice.
I will say this much about the Sheen/LiLo coverage, and why I for one am reluctantly glad to see it get airtime:
Not enough people in our society today know what mental illness looks like. Too many people believe it only affects poor people, or uneducated people, or unsuccessful people, or "weirdos." Too many people miss too many warning signs. Too many people (and I envy them) have never had a loved one experience a psychotic break, or struggle with a seemingly unbreakable addiction. Too many people are reluctantly half-convinced that their child, spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, neighbor, must really BE "winning" if s/he insists loudly enough that it's the case, and are too willing to ignore the alarm bells.
People – often innocent bystanders, often children – DIE because mental illness is still shrouded in such secrecy and confusion. "Well, he goes to work every day, he can't be crazy!" or "She's young and beautiful and makes a ton of money, I guess she has the right to have some odd opinions now and then" – and the disease grows.
I ABSOLUTELY agree that it's shameful that Sheen (et al)'s antics get priority coverage, especially over the men and women who have died in the course of their service to our country. I also oppose the war in Afghanistan, and most other military actions, but I completely honor and sincerely grieve for the fallen, lost, and wounded (physically, mentally, and spiritually) soldiers who are doing a job I know I am incapable of doing.
But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here – it's my opinion that there IS some good coming out of the Sheen frenzy, and the LiLo frenzy when it was hot news, and the Britney frenzy back whenever. There are simply too many people who don't believe mental illness can happen to "nice" or "successful" people, or that it's only "mental illness" if you're drooling and naked on the street corner, shouting to people about the space monsters.
I would like to see the media handle the Sheen situation (and others like it) with more discretion and less glee, and wish they would get their priorities straight in terms of what's more truly news-worthy, but I think it would be a dreadful mistake for these meltdowns to get NO coverage at all. People need to see what it looks like, how it sounds, how much (seeming) sense it can occasionally make, how rapidly and devastatingly it can accelerate, and how completely resistant the afflicted person can be to the suggestion that there's anything wrong. People need to know how, when, and why to get help, and to feel that they're not alone.
Eric Blehm, the Award Winning Author of The Only Thing Worth Dying For was up close and personal with our Special Forces, Green Berets stationed in Afghanistan. This is a MUST READ book for all Americans to understand what our Soldiers have to endure on a daily basis. They lay their lives on the line without hesitation so that we can remain the land of the Free. I too feel that our Soldiers need much more recognition than they are getting.
As I posted on Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition, there are way to many "drama queens" in the media with their dysfunctional lives. As Charlie stated today in his latest video, he has captured television. He is thriving on all of this attention. Put him in rehab before it is to late. Don't enable him with all of the media coverage. If ONLY our SOLDIERS could receive this constant wide spread media attention and remind all Americans just how many lives have been lost, These are the people IMHO that deserve, and I repeat DESERVE the media coverage.
Land of free? you idiot. Is the Switzerland not free without sending soldiers to kill children in Afghanistan ?
There is cheese in my nose.
Profound thanks for taking the time to honor these heroes.
Is the media and journalist being paid off by someone? There is real news out there and we are not getting
it. Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, really? They live in a bubble, pay $50,000 for a dog, or $4,000 for jeans, and
their lifestyle is unheard of and who cares? They drink, do drugs to the max and just think of themselves and their millions and how to get more millions (like every hollywood star does) These are not real Americans anyways.This shows one how like most "actors" are with money, they just keep it for themselves and dont help others its all about them, while these soldiers give themselves and dont get recognize at all...its sick. Anyone who is a newscaster, news reporter for all this nonsense "news" should be ashamed and how do you sleep at night. Where is the real news and how come Americans are not getting it? Thank you for this Facebook post.
I am in your son's unit in Kandahar right now, and I'm sorry for your loss. But Andrew was a great soldier, and there are a very select few who have the impact on those around him like your son did. It was an honor to know him.
Steven, as you know Andrew was due home this Monday, the 6th for leave. If he were here now there would be music in this house, it would float through the walls and the air. He would stay up all night composing. He is missed here, and more-so there in theater. We have grown used to his absence, to the soldiers of the 3rd platoon his absence is much, much more real. I ache more when I think of the members of the 3rd platoon than I do for his immediate family.
Do something good for another today, he would have, it was his way, his path, his Tao.
Jeff, Andrew's father.
Your story has hit the nation. Mission complete. My thoughts and prayers to your family. I am a soldier's wife. I cannot fathom your loss but can feel your saddness. You have made your son's story affect people across the world. Charlie who? THANK YOU.
I have been humbled greatly in the past few days; we lost our son in law last weekend due to an IED in Afghanistan. This war needs to stop; we now have a grieving daughter who has to raise her two year old son and her yet unborn daughter due to arrive in a few weeks. Charlie Sheen – who really cares??
Donna, I second that motion. This war has got to stop.
Andrew's father, Jeff
I see the focus has moved from the 4 soldiers who died to some guy(s) who calls himself Salerno...and the article was about Sheen getting all the attention in the first place. Sheen, Salerno. Already we've forgotten the point, America. Is there any hope?
Spot on ColoradoDude, you're reading the waters perfectly.
Andrew's father, Jeff
It's amazing CNN is even covering this... (not that fox is any better) My old battalion (3/5, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines) is in Sangin Afghanistan and have lost over 26 Good guys.. not a single mention of any of them. If this is CNN trying to cover them because it's a good story or are they covering this to make some good conversation and debate. Shame. To all other vets and active duty members of the military semper fi!
please share this article, as these AMERICAN HEROES need to be recognized by all of us. NEVER FORGET!!!