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When local soldier returned from Afghanistan, 'he had no life in his eyes'

Master Cpl. Jon Woolvett, a Canadian military veteran who did two tours of Afghanistan, died earlier this year at the age of 38

Master Cpl. Jon Woolvett, a Barrie native and Canadian soldier who did two tours of duty in Afghanistan, is one of the many faces of a younger generation that will be honoured this Remembrance Day.

Woolvett died at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie earlier this year on March 17. He was 38 years old. 

His mother, Diana Monteiro, spoke about her son and the tragic circumstances around his death, which was rooted in some of the terrible things he had witnessed in war-time.

Woolvett attended St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School before joining the army, which was a lifelong dream of his.

“He always wanted to be in the army, even as a little boy,” Monteiro said. “There are photos of him when he was two years old dressed like a soldier.”

Woolvett was born in Toronto in 1982 and spent his early years in Bracebridge. He moved to Barrie in 1998. 

He enlisted with the Canadian Armed Forces on Aug. 22, 2002 and completed basic training at St. Jean, Que. After infantry trade training at Meaford, he was posted to the Royal Canadian Regiment's Third Battalion in May 2003. 

The horrors of war started as soon as Woolvett began his initial tour, which lasted from Jan. 21, 2007 until August 2007.

“On the very first tour, there was a boy, Matt McCully; he and Jonathon were great friends. Matt was a radio guy and he was in front of my son. Jon saw some Taliban pushing a detonator and seconds later, terrible," said Monteiro, a native of Uruguay. 

McCully was killed instantly and the death weighed heavily on Woolvett — who was promoted to master corporal in October 2007 — for many years later. 

Woolvett returned home before heading back out for a second tour from September 2008 until March 2009, but faced sadness then as well, without any time to grieve, says his mother.

“My oldest son died from lymphoma and it was so hard for our family, but Jonathon had to go back, because that was his job,” Monteiro said. “While he was back in Afghanistan, on the day of his birthday, he lost five men from an ambush.”

Long after that incident, Monteiro says her son had told her that “he saw death that day.”

“When he came back from that tour, he had no life in his eyes,” she said. “His body was there, but his eyes were completely vacant.”

Monteiro recalls her son saying: “Mom, something has changed in me.”

Woolvett was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and returned to Canada in 2009, but the anguish only worsened. 

After 12 years, he retired from the military in April 2015. 

Woolvett’s PTSD-related issues began to take hold.

“At the time of his death, Jonathon was taking 14 medications. The other thing these guys do to medicate is drink,” Monteiro said. “He developed cirrhosis of the liver because of it and one night there were some complications. He was airlifted to a Toronto hospital because arteries in his esophagus burst, but they were able to save him.

“The issue was that he had so many things wrong because of the PTSD and the drinking; he had the body of an old man with so many aches," she added. 

On the night of March 16, Woolvett was rushed to RVH with further complications. 

“He had some bleeding and they needed to look and see what was happening. They used a process that required him to be sedated, and that is the one thing I am glad for,” Monteiro said. “He died while he was sedated and wouldn’t have felt anything.”

Woolvett died at 5:55 a.m., March 17, from a massive heart attack.

To make matters worse for Monteiro, COVID had made its way to Barrie around that same time and she had to be isolated for 14 days after the death of her son.

“A man died from COVID on the same floor as my son, so everyone had to isolate. My other son wanted to come see me, but I couldn't let him in the house because I had to stay away from people,” Monteiro said. “It was no good, but what are you going to do? If you’re asked to do something to help, you do it.”

Woolvett leaves behind a daughter, Jayden, with his wife, whom he married in August 2018. 

Woolvett is buried in Beechwood National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. 

Monteiro says she doesn't know — and may never know — what was accomplished by sending Canadian troops to Afghanistan, but she will remember her son the same way when Remembrance Day is observed on Wednesday. 

“I am an immigrant. I have been in Canada, coming from Uruguay, for 52 years,” she said. “I have seen soldiers marching through the streets and people disappearing. I am so grateful for Canada that I can live in peace, that I have an opportunity to work and there is not the amount of corruption there is in other places.

“The reason we have the lifestyle that we have is because someone paid the price, and all these people before, young and old, have paid the price. This is not a holiday; it's not for going shopping, it is to remember. Even before I lost my son, it was for remembering.”

Woolvett will be honoured during this week's local Remembrance Day ceremony. 


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Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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