An Autumn Night…….

Willard, Ohio sits just west of the southern Cleveland suburbs. It is an area that reminds me of much of the country I have seen for the past 2 months except for the presence of more trees. The roads are quiet and traffic is sparse. The sound of cicadas that has accompanied me for so long, is fading as fall and the cooling temperatures quiet their melodious songs. We drive in silence to a 15 acre farm on the outskirts of town. Silence is good sometimes, even with a host. Her name is Kathe and there are things she wants to tell me and in time she will. At the farm are her horses and an array of goats and cats, rabbits and turkeys, roaming chickens and cows and best of all, two Shrek-like donkeys. She feeds the horses and walks them a bit and I soak in this quiet country night. Unable to reach Joe-the-hay-guy for some much need bales, we walk to the field and rake what little hay there is and feed the rest of the animals. Kathe is a native of Willard. Born and raised here, she would in turn, raise her three children here.  As a single mom I can imagine it was difficult at times and yet a blessing and rewarding in many other ways for her. After dinner we head for her home and in her living room make small talk and she asks if I would like to meet her son Keifer. Rising from her chair she leads me to a hutch and Keifer is there, his ashes, in a beautiful mahogany box. Pictures come out. He was a beautiful little baby with blue eyes and blonde hair. There are photos of him from almost every age through school. Soccer photos and wrestling photos and always a smile. She is a very proud mother and yet I see the sadness and there is more for her to tell. “Do you know how he died?”  I am puzzled. “No, I don’t.”

Keifer Wilhelm enlisted in the Army in December of 2008. He graduated from Basic Training in Fort Benning and in May 2009 received news he would be deployed to Iraq. Kathe speaks fondly of her son. She tells me how he was saving his money to buy a new car when he returned. She tells me of his battle with weight in high school and how he had shed the pounds needed on his own so he could enlist. In Basic he toned up and carried himself taller and with more confidence when he came home on leave. She had the month of July with her son and then within 4 days of arriving in Iraq, he was gone. In a bathroom stall he would end his life with a gunshot. In those few short days he was driven to despair and depression, the result of extreme hazing by 4 higher ranking soldiers. Tragic and sad. I sit there and listen to her story, I see the tears in her eyes. A soldier should never die that way, not having their dignity reduced to a level that would lead to suicide. Most importantly, not by those who would lead you and watch your back in the heat of battle. I read the reports. Stacks of court papers and statements by fellow soldiers reveal extreme physical punishment and mental abuse. “Why should it get any easier for you?” His bunk mate would say to him. The four would be brought up on charges of maltreatment and from what I am told, only a sentence of six months is given out to one. They will go home and carry on with their lives and be treated as heroes but there is darkness on the badges of honor that they carry. Kathe sits there and is quiet now. She wrings her hands over and over, rocks gently back and forth. She will not see her son marry or giver her grandchildren or see him on fall evenings at the farm like the night we shared. There are only blank pages now and she only has her memories to soothe her anguish. Maybe Keifer will return, maybe he already has. I believe that this wonderful, thoughtful, young man is around his mother each day and although he was never given the chance to protect his country, he will protect her. It is as it should be and it is an awareness of these things that I experience on the road………..

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7 Responses to “An Autumn Night…….”

  1. Ellie Lizotte Says:

    Mike..
    My heart aches for Kathe. I am grateful that you entered this story on your blog. It will help us understand what men and women confront while having good intentions of honoring their country. Keifer will have a special place in our hearts. I, too, feel that he is there with his mother..watching over her. Your light shines brighter than the sun, Mike. Stay safe…..ellie

  2. Lori Says:

    This is one of the hardest posts to read.
    Since I write to the soldiers and know
    of some who have either taken a bullet
    so they did not have to return home,
    Self inflicted, or stepping into Harms Way
    deliberately.Others who
    through drugs and counseling while in Iraq
    who did make it home and still struggle today.

    And all I am left with is a heart that bleeds for the Family’s
    and so many Why’s and How can we change things.
    As I post their names on Price of Freedom

  3. kathe Says:

    mike,
    as i told you i look at the blogs but usually do not read them because its to hard right now, so many families hurting and young lives gone. But when i seen the willard post i had to read it. it is a beautifull blog… i cried the whole way through, but still beautifull. thank you for visiting and showing the families a little piece of my baby.

  4. desiree Says:

    this one should stop everyone in their tracks as they read this very tragic and sadly enough to say, real story of a life lost in the most horrible of ways. I am so sorry that this young man reached this point and felt no one cared enough for him for him to want to live and do what he so wanted to do. I will never understand the brutal things that are done such as this and my heart hurts so much for his mom as her son is gone forever and the ones doing this will just live on. Thanks for giving us something to read that makes us realize that there are more things to these wonderful people’s lives in our military than we can begin to realize. Your journey is coming towards those end days and i know these lives have made you a very different and stronger person Mike….so happy to have seen you in Indiana…..hugs,
    des

  5. Lori Says:

    Written about your journey by one of my Veteran Brothers that served in Nam, thought you might like to read what he posted on our Open Door site for all military,

    At The Remains

    Of one life’s journey

    One can see the start

    Of a new one

    That has begun

    Leaving a flag behind

    To stand for the loss

    Of another one

    From one coast

    To reach the other one

    One flag every mile

    To just how many

    Of ours are gone

    All not in protest

    But for the honor

    Of them one and all

    Starting at the remains

    Of a ship from the ocean

    That has crashed ashore

    Never to be afloat anymore

    One can now get to see

    One flag standing of a name

    That has now gone

    One life one mile at a time

    From shore to shining shore

    To honor those who were lost at War

    By a warrior who needed to do more

    Then just coming home

    To honor those who never

    Made it home on their own

    Their brother has begun

    Written By

    R.C.Keckler

    05/18/10

  6. Shavon (Keiffer's Aunt) Says:

    Keiffer also left behind a loving father-Shane, a brother-Shannon and a sister-Tabitha. A single mother and a single father lost a very precious, happy-go-lucky child who became a man when he enlisted in the Army. To know you are out there placing flags for all of these Soldiers is an honorable thing. Keiffer should be here today to see it for himself. This was one young man who shouldn’t have lost his life for the reason that he did!!

  7. Jackie Says:

    Mike,
    Thank you for this post. My heart goes out to this mother, her loss is immeasurable. It is so sad to hear stories like this the tragic out come of a young soldier driven to despair by those who should have been looking out for him. Isn’t the real enemy of war hard enough to fight against, without the need to fight against the maltreatment of your fellow soldiers?
    Jackie

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