Shirley and Tony Boneca were told of their son's death by an army padre and a commander who came to their Thunder Bay home at 3:30 a.m. yesterday. Their only child had just three weeks left on his second tour in Afghanistan.

"My son volunteered to go to Afghanistan," father Antonio Boneca said in a statement released by the military yesterday. " Anthony knew what he was getting into."

"This is so hard to do," Elizabeth Babe, Boneca's aunt, said from the family home yesterday. "He was coming home in 20 days. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about a wonderful boy. I've known him all of his life, as short as it has been."

He leaves his parents, six aunts and two uncles, many cousins, family in Portugal, and his girlfriend, Megan DeCorte, 19. Larry DeCorte said Boneca and his daughter planned to marry. There was no set date because Boneca had wanted to ask him in person for permission.

"He was the love of her life, and they were planning on a life together right after he got home," DeCorte said. "We loved him. The whole family here loved him. He is the kind of kid that, when you have daughters, you want your daughter to find."

Boneca was born and raised in Thunder Bay. He graduated a few years ago from St. Ignatius Catholic Secondary School, where he quarterbacked the Falcons, the school's football team, with great enthusiasm if not always across the goal line.

He was always one of the ones where you'd have to repeat yourself about 30 times for instructions," chuckled Barry Quarrell, a vice-principal at St. Ignatius who coached the team when Boneca was there. "He'd always forget the plays. He'd say, `Give me a piece of paper, give me a book, write it on my forehead.' I just knew what kind of soldier he was," said Quarrell, "because he was dedicated at whatever he did, and I know that he loves what he did."

"He didn't really have any goal for when he finished high school," said his aunt. "He sort of knew he wasn't ready to go to college or university. He liked military strategy, military games, and stuff like that. So I guess that just followed naturally. I guess he figured it would be something to try, and when he did go into the reserves, he really, really, loved it. He made a lot of friends."

Boneca emailed friends last week: "It's so hot here now you can barely handle it. I know you're all watching the news and know what's going on here, but don't worry, I'll be okay."