Coast Guard

Coast Guard Honors Boy Battling Cancer With Honorary Chief Rank

Sean MacDonnell’s parents made the difficult choice to stop treatment and now want to make his remaining time stand out.

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There is a new chief petty officer in the Coast Guard Ranks. The incredibly rare honor was given to an 8-year-old boy at the Coast Guard Academy Saturday.

The surprise ceremony was so emotional because throughout his life, Sean MacDonnell has taken on a tough battle with cancer.

It was with emotion, embraces and a standing ovation that he was pinned and became an honorary chief in the Coast Guard.

“It's an extremely, extremely important day, and I know he can't wait to tell all his friends about it. Because he didn't have any idea it was coming,” George MacDonnell, Sean’s father and a Leadership Development Center instructor at the Coast Guard Academy, said.

It's not an honor given to many, but one given to Sean to recognize his fight against cancer. He has known the inside of hospitals for much of his life, battling Rhabdomyosarcoma.

“Since this diagnosis, and with everything going on, and that was four years ago, it's been a really, a really long haul. So a lot of emotions. And then I'll just put it there, a lot of emotions,” MacDonnell said.

Despite the best medical treatments, his cancer has reoccurred multiple times. After speaking with doctors, Sean’s parents made the difficult decision last week to stop treatment.

The goal now is to make his remaining months stand out.

“We just have to be, have to be as close as we can, and united as we can,” MacDonnell said.

It’s why Coast Guard chiefs came together to change the script at a retirement ceremony Saturday and honor the little boy from Old Saybrook.

“Sean has given to us more than we can ever give back to him,” Maria D'Angelo, command master chief at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said.

Along with engaging in fundraisers for childhood cancer, Sean is often right by his dad’s side at the Coast Guard Academy.

“His strength through all of this, and he shows up day in day out at the drills and everything here on the academy campus. And we look at him as the epitome of 'achieve,’” D’Angelo said. “I can only wish that the cadets that we train here, if we had half of this kid’s strength, we are an incredible organization.”

The ceremonial pinning, a moment of recognition: the Coast Guard honoring a young hero who has touched so many lives.

“He's been our pillar of strength,” MacDonnell said. “And that's why we're so happy that he's our new chief.”

The Old Saybrook community is also doing a number of things to honor Sean, like wearing the number one on their little league jerseys to celebrate him.

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