By Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham
When Michael Palelli saw 19-year-old Matty Marcone’s story on the news he said it hit him like a ton of bricks. The piece highlighted the Massachusetts native and Canton High School student donning his school’s hockey jersey, hitting the ice, and scoring a goal − a precious moment years in the making.
Despite his love for the sport, Matty was on the school’s hockey team for years without playing in a game. Matty was diagnosed in 2012 with a rare genetic disorder called Dyskeratosis Congenita, a condition that leads to premature bone marrow failure. The contact and falls make playing hockey too dangerous for Matty.
Palelli, a law enforcement officer at Coast Guard Station Gloucester, in Massachusetts, said Matty’s news story gave him an idea.
Palelli, who is also a huge hockey fan, reached out to Matty’s parents to ask if Matty would be an honorary captain for the station’s floor hockey team during a tournament in Rhode Island.
Matty’s mom, Susan Marcone, said she was humbled by the unexpected invitation.
“Petty Officer Palelli told us Matty’s story inspired him, but having a servicemember take the time and go the extra mile for Matty is beyond inspirational,” Susan said.
Matty felt a tad nervous prior to the event, but persevered and had a fantastic time. The team presented him a Coast Guard hockey jersey and Matty even got on the floor during warm-up. His mom said Matty left the event feeling like part of the Coast Guard family.
Matty’s Coast Guard experience didn’t end there. Palelli kept in touch with Matty and his family. When the weather warmed up, Palelli invited the Marcone family to Station Gloucester where the crew gathered and presented Matty with a certificate making him an honorary Coast Guard Station Gloucester crewmember.
After the ceremony and lunch in the station’s galley, a boat crew took Matty and his family underway around Gloucester Harbor in the station’s 47-foot Motor Lifeboat. Palelli told Matty since he was now a Coast Guard member he could drive the rescue boat.
Wearing a huge smile, Matty proudly navigated through the harbor, avoiding lobster traps, and as Palelli said, showing the other Coast Guard boat crewmembers “how it’s done.”
Susan said it took her and Matty’s father a long time to realize the dreams they had for Matty were their dreams, not his. Once they realized his dreams where all coming true, it made Matty’s diagnosis easier to accept.
“It’s all about perspective,” she said.
There is no cure for Matty’s condition, only treatment options for the systems and organs it affects. He will need a liver transplant and a bone marrow transplant in the near future.
What Palelli was originally inspired by in Matty’s news feature is a testament to both Palelli and Matty’s passions for life. Susan said Matty faces a lot of adversity but never complains or gives up, qualities she recognizes in Palelli, too.
“Palelli is a man who served four years overseas and looks like a tough guy on the outside, but he truly has a heart of gold,” Susan said. “I’m sure being a dad himself has softened him, as it does to even the toughest of guys. We are just so honored to have this relationship with him and the whole Station Gloucester crew.”
As a new, honorary Coast Guard member Matty’s contribution to the service is not something training or experience in the fleet can teach. Matty’s pureness, passion, and determination have resonated with the station’s crew, especially in Palelli who said he feels blessed to know Matty and is proud to call him a Shipmate.