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Michael S. Monaghan Memorial Scholarship Concert pays tribute to a fallen hero

by Julia Pacifico

Michael Monaghan was in the prime of his life when he died tragically in a US Navy search-and-rescue accident on February 18th, 1998.

Although 20 years have passed in the blink of an eye, Michael’s family and friends have been celebrating the all-American boy’s fun loving, inquisitive, mischievous, loyal and good-hearted nature.

The celebration takes form each year as a Scholarship Memorial Concert in Michael’s memory, complete with a variety of musical numbers from Irish to the Blues Brothers, from brother Bill Monaghan’s original compositions to brother Jim Monaghan’s Elvis gyrations.

This year the event will take place in the Sophia A. Friedman Auditorium at Archbishop Wood High School, 655 York Road, Warminster, on Saturday, April 21st, at 7:00pm.

Many friends lend their talents and join to keep the memories alive, most notably with an annual soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace” complete with Michael’s life in pictures.

It is no small coincidence that future sailor Michael Shamus Monaghan was born in Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty in the year of our nation’s Bicentennial, on Memorial Day 1976.

The Monaghan family settled in Ivyland in 1981, enrolling Michael and his siblings in many township activities in both Northampton and Warminster townships. Artistic, musical, and athletic, Michael easily made friends, often outshining his peers on the soccer, baseball, and track fields. Senior year at Archbishop Wood even brought Michael the distinction of Athlete of the Week during his first and only year of football.

People were drawn to Michael, not only by his All-American good looks and charisma, but more so by his sincere heart and unwavering loyalty.

Desiring to serve his country, and eager for an education beyond normal academics, Michael decided to join the Navy upon graduating from Wood in 1995.

August found him in boot camp, and within a year, Michael decided to pursue search-and-rescue, training in helicopters, rappelling, swimming, and using his athletic skills to save lives.

Tragedy struck that fateful Tuesday in February 1998, when his helicopter clipped power lines and crashed into a cliff wall along the Kern River, killing all five on board, including Michael, who was crew chief for this training mission.

The UH-1N Huey helicopter search-and-rescue crew were performing a routine practice mission in Sequoia National Park, California.

“I always see his beautiful smile and hear his voice – the voice that has the little laugh behind every thing he says,” wrote his father, William Monaghan, in a letter to his family at Christmastime 1998. “I hear the sound of a helicopter and picture him looking down, taking in the breathtaking sights of the ground, mountains, rivers and the wild horses he used to speak about. It’s as though he is looking for someone to rescue.”

Though as hardworking and disciplined as he was, Michael’s mother, Kathleen, remembers a more innocent side of her son, saying, “His boss in the Navy gave Michael’s eulogy. Michael was always late for everything. Everyone laughed because as unbelievable as it sounds that was how Michael got up every day.”

Michael’s death generated a huge public outpouring, and within a month his brothers and best friends planned and performed the first of many Michael S. Monaghan Memorial concerts.

The concert serves as a way to remember Michael, while continuing the spirit of his overwhelming generosity in raising scholarship funds for students at Archbishop Wood.

Mike’s brother, Bill, remembers “The last song Michael asked me to help him figure out was on his Christmas leave 1997. The song: George Strait’s ‘I Cross My Heart.” We figured out how to play it, and a few weeks later I drove Michael to the train which took him back to the Navy. A month later, Michael died. I remember the song’s chorus, which always echoes in my head: ‘In all the world/you’ll never find/a love as true as mine.’

This is how I will always remember Michael, because to all his family and friends, Michael was about as true of heart as you would ever find.”

“The Monaghan Scholarship was a tremendous financial support to my parents and served as a motivator to me to make the most out of my time at Archbishop Wood and my continued pursuit of higher education,” says 2004 scholarship recipient Kevin L. Rakszawski, a Hematology/Oncology Fellow at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

To date, more than $120,000 has been awarded to students in scholarships in the last 20 years, continuing the legacy and honoring the memory of Michael Shamus Monaghan, class of 1995, US Navy AMH3, son, brother, friend, and hero.

For concert info and tickets, call 215-357-3370 or e-mail tickets@monaghanmusic.com.

PHOTO CAP: Mike Monaghan