For the next two years, as a passed midshipman, he was attached to the cruiser Olympia, flagship of the U.S. Asiatic Station. Promoted to the rank of ensign in July 1897, he was next assigned to the monitor Monadnock and gunboat Alert, both of which operated along the West Coast of the Americas. In July 1898, during the Spanish-American War, he became an officer of the cruiser USS Philadelphia (Cruiser No. 4), the Pacific Station’s flagship.
Calling at Apia, Samoa on 6 March 1899, Philadelphia encountered an unstable political climate, created by rival native factions and spurred on by German intrigue, which soon erupted into open hostility. A combined American and British naval force sought to keep the peace, but insurgent natives attacked American and British consulates late in March.
On 1 April in retaliation, a British and American landing party, supported by friendly natives, set out from Apia to drive off the rebels under Chief Mataafa. With Lieutenant Philip Lansdale in command of the Americans, the expeditionary force dispersed the natives but was ambushed while returning to Apia.
While protecting the evacuation of a mortally wounded machine gunner, Lieutenant Lansdale was seriously wounded when an enemy bullet shattered Lt. Lansdale’s right leg. Aided by Seaman Norman Edsall and another enlisted man, Ensign Monaghan carried him until he dropped from exhaustion. Despite Lansdale’s plea, “Monny, you leave me now, I cannot go any further,” Monaghan remained beside his fallen lieutenant. With only one rifle between them, they were soon overrun by pursuing natives; both officers died on the spot in heroic performance of their duty.