'He paid the price': Barrie mother lays wreath for soldier son overcome by PTSD

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Editor's note: This story was first published on Nov. 11, 2020

Master Cpl. Jonathan Woolvett didn’t die on the battlefield.

But the horrors he endured as a soldier in Afghanistan ultimately cost him his life.

The Canadian veteran, who saw two tours of duty in that wartorn country, was remembered with reverence Nov. 11 as his mother laid a wreath in his honour during a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Barrie Legion.

“He paid the price. He gave it all,” Diana Monteiro told Simcoe.com. “I tried to change his mind a million times not to go back there, but he always wanted to be a soldier ever since he was a little kid.”

Woolvett passed away March 17 at Royal Victoria Regional District Health Centre due to complications from catastrophic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was 38.

Woolvett was a “boots-on-the-ground” soldier who saw the nightmare of war first-hand, once having to pick up the pieces of a fellow soldier who was killed by an explosive device.

Woolvett received the Medal of Sacrifice in 2013 for saving Canadian lives while fighting the Taliban.

“In a hail of bullets, he went and grabbed a friend a hundred feet away and brought him back in a helicopter,” his mother said. “They always said Jonathan was the first one in and the last one out. I’m very proud of him.”

At the end of his second tour in 2009, he returned to Canada physically able, but the Barrie-area resident never overcame the mental anguish he carried with him until he died of a heart attack in hospital.

“They call it the living death,” Monteiro said. “What never gets talked about is the ones that commit suicide when they come back.”

During an interview with Global News in 2014, Woolvett spoke about the nightmares he tried to quash with alcohol and prescribed medications.

“A lot of my nightmares are of stuff that didn’t necessarily happen over there. But it’s my greatest fears, like being overrun, being captured, my friends being systematically executed in front of me.”

In 2013, he made national headlines when his father addressed an all-party committee of MPs about the “tremendous disconnect” between the military chain of command and the medics treating soldiers with combat-related mental injuries.

Greg Woolvett told committee at the time his son was “drinking himself into stupidity” to wash away the nightmares, but appeared to be getting little help from his military commanders.

Still, Jon Woolvett had a gregarious side and was popular among his friends and teammates in the Barrie Molson Sportsmen Hockey League, where he went by the nickname “Gunny.”

He would tell his teammates stories of Afghanistan, but would lighten the mood with humorous anecdotes.

“He always was the entertainer,” his mother said. “When he was little, he was always the last one out of the dressing room because he was performing for his friends.”

Woolvett served in Afghanistan from Jan. 21 to Aug. 30, 2007, and Sept. 9, 2008, to March 22, 2009. He retired from the military on April 2, 2015.

He is buried in Beechwood National Military Cemetery in Ottawa.

Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance