Area soldier was happiest serving with friends in military

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 May 2016 at 12:00 am

The late Sgt. Jonathan Webster, 27, served 2 tours in Afghanistan, fought cancer

Photos courtesy of Candy Farmer and Rachel Hafner – Sgt. Jonathan “Webbie” Webster is pictured on one of his two tours of duty to Afghanistan with the Army. Webster died at age 27 on May 10 following complications from chemotherapy to treat cancer.

ALBION – Jonathan Webster was 17 when he joined the Army. It was a decision that brought needed structure for a young man who had lived with foster families. He moved around, making it difficult to settle in at a school district during his high school years.

One of his foster families in Le Roy urged him to get his GED and join the military. Webster followed that advice and he found a calling and sense of purpose with the military. He made numerous friends in the Army and the military became a family for him, even when he served two tours in Afghanistan, Webster’s mother Candy Farmer said.

“He joined the Army at age 17, thank God,” said Farmer of Holley. “When he was in the Army that’s when he was his happiest. The Army saved his life. It gave him structure and a sense of family.”

Jonathan Webster excelled in the military. He was promoted to sergeant.

Webster was enlisted for nearly seven years. He was first sent to Fort Lewis in Washington State, and later served a year at Fort Drum near Watertown. He was honorably discharged on Oct. 4, 2013.

He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. His family said he was in a convoy when a roadside bomb blew up, killing one of his close friends. Webster received the Purple Heart and numerous medals for his service.

Webster reconnected with family when he was back in the area. He “struggled for a while” readjusting to civilian life, said his sister Rachel Hafner of Albion.

Jonathan Webster holds his niece, Isabelle, in this photo from 2014.

Webster found a groove, living in Gates and working as a machinist. He enjoyed working with his hands. He visited his sister in Albion and her four children. He loved to carve pumpkins with them, take them fishing and play catch in the backyard with a football.

Last August Webster was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The surgery seemed a success, but doctors discovered more cancer with a CT Scan about four months after the surgery. Webster had nine weeks of chemotherapy starting in December.

Webster suffered a rare side effect from the chemo: Bleomycin Toxicity damaged his lungs making it difficult to breathe. Webster was admitted to Strong Memorial Hospital on April 6. On April 28, he was taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to await a double-lung transplant. Webster was stricken with pneumonia and blood clots. He died on May 10.

His family remains in shock at how quickly Webster lost his health. He was muscular and committed to fitness.

Webster is pictured with his nephew Brody Hafner of Albion. Webster added many tattoos while he was in the military.

While he was fighting cancer and going through chemotherapy, he sent friends and family reassuring text messages.

“He said everything would be Ok, and don’t worry about me,” his sister said.

Webster was charming around women. But he was also private and didn’t want attention while he was sick.

Webster’s mother said her son overcame a difficult childhood to succeed in life and serve the country with honor.

“He triumphed over everything you put in front of him,” Farmer said.

Webster is pictured with his mother, Candy Farmer of Holley, in this photo from Mother’s Day 2015.

Webster comes from a military family in the Holley area. His uncle, the late Gary Stymus, was one of the 11 Holley men who died in the Vietnam War. Many of Webster’s family members have served in the military, including his brother Jason Webster, who is recently retired from Marine Corps.

Hafner, Webster’s older sister by 10 years, said her brother is a success story.

“He was a hell of a fighter,” she said.

The family is planning a celebration of his life on June 18 from 1 to 6 p.m. at VFW in Holley. Many of Webster’s Army friends from Fort Lewis in Washington and Fort Drum are expected. Military honors, including a 21-gun salute, will be presented at 1 p.m.

A GoFundMe account has also been established to help the family cover funeral expenses.