IR student rides his family’s wake to Merchant Marines

Date Published: 
February 28, 2014

McGuiganMcGuiganSeawater runs through the veins of McGuigan men. Matthew McGuigan was lured seaward, just like his father and grandfather, and now the Indian River High School senior has received three congressional-level nominations to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

“I’ve grown up on boats. The ocean is a major part of my life,” said McGuigan, whose grandfather attended Merchant Marine, and father has done everything on the water, from commercial fishing to owning a tackle shop. “I feel great way make living is to be on the water.”

McGuigan hasn’t been accepted to the elite academy yet, but he’s got a great start. All applicants to the Merchant Marine Academy, Naval Academy, Air Force Academy and West Point must be nominated by a member of Congress, the vice president or the secretary of the Air Force, Army or Navy.

Sen. Tom Carper, Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. John Carney each select ten nominees for Merchant Marine, and McGuigan was on each list. Even getting a nomination is like applying for school, with applications and interviews where students answer questions like “Why should the government spend $400,000 on you?” (Academies pay the entire cost of tuition.)

After graduating college, he hopes to join the Coast Guard for helicopter rescue. Family history adds to McGuigan’s desire to fly.

“I’ve been picked up twice by Coast Guard Air,” said Bruce McGuigan, once with a broken back and ruptured kidney 120 miles offshore in heavy seas. “A couple of air groups would not fly because of conditions. Finally Elizabeth City, North Carolina – they said basically, ‘We got a chopper ready to go.’ That was impressive.”

The two rescues happened before Matthew was old enough to remember – or even born – but he knows his father probably wouldn’t have survived otherwise.

“Coast Guard never gets called on the pretty days. They get called on the nasty days,” Bruce said. “I think that’s part of it. Matthew hears the stories. God bless him, I think he’s dedicated to the idea of helping people in need.”

“I see how selfless they are towards everyone else. They know they’re there to protect everyone else,” said Matthew, who knows rough seas are “not fun.”

Bruce McGuigan said his own father left high school as a sophomore and joined the service in 1942.

“He was pretty well underage, which was pretty routine back then. When the war erupted they didn’t wait until they were 18,” he said. The young sailor was sunk twice. He attended the Merchant Marine Academy and also served with the Navy in Korea and Vietnam.

Merchant Marine usually involves navigating for trade and commerce, but can still mean wartime action, which makes it especially “bittersweet” for Bruce if Matthew attends because “as they’ve told us, he’s now possession of the U.S. government.”

If not Merchant Marine, McGuigan hopes to attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. He was excited to earn all three nominations, especially on such a short list for each Congressperson. Plus, he received the first letter on his birthday.

His parents, Bruce and Andrea McGuigan of Bethany Beach, were “absolutely elated by it,” said Bruce. “It’s a nice legacy from my father on down. He’s worked hard academically. He’s a decent student athlete and he applies himself, not just at school…”

IR guidance counselor Paul Kmetz said McGuigan is smart, thorough and takes the initiative.

“I think that’s what the military is looking for, and it’s in his heart.”

“These academies will develop these young people for tomorrow, readying them to help our nation realize its vision,” commented Carper, a Navy veteran. “Their integrity, dedication and perspective are inspiring.”

Other high-schoolers hoping to attend service academy should start preparing early, said McGuigan, who studies graphic design and plays for varsity lacrosse and cross country. “Get it knocked out as soon as possible,” starting in the spring or summer after junior year. Besides regular applications, essays and recommendations, students must pass health and physical fitness exams.

This year, other nearby nominations went to Madelyn Crimmins of Millsboro/Georgetown (by Carney and Coons alternate to West Point) and Abidas Girardi of Millsboro (by Carney, Carper and Coons alternate to Air Force Academy).