NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 1236-06 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 5, 2006
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis, 19, of Knox, Pennsylvania., died of injuries on December 4, 2006, suffered when a grenade was thrown into his vehicle in Baghdad, Iraq. McGinnis was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany.
For further information related to this release the media can contact the 1st Infantry Division public affairs office at 011-49-931-889-6408.
Silver Star Approved for Soldier Who Sacrificed Himself for Crew
American Forces Press ServiceFORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq, December 12, 2006 – Army Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis packed only 136 pounds into his 6-foot frame, but few have ever matched his inner strength.
Army Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis earned the Silver Star Medal for taking the force of a grenade explosion to save his crew in Baghdad on December 4.
McGinnis sacrificed himself in an act of supreme bravery on December 4, belying his status as the youngest soldier in Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
The 19-year-old amateur mechanic from Knox, Pa., who enjoyed poker and loud music, likely saved the lives of four soldiers riding with him on a mission in Baghdad.
McGinnis was manning the gunner’s hatch when an insurgent tossed a grenade from above. It flew past McGinnis and down through the hatch before lodging near the radio. His platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas of Longview, Texas, recalled what happened next.
“Pfc. McGinnis yelled ‘Grenade! … It’s in the truck,’” Thomas said. “I looked out of the corner of my eye as I was crouching down and I saw him pin it down.” McGinnis did so even though he could have escaped. “He had time to jump out of the truck,” Thomas said. “He chose not to.”
Thomas remembered McGinnis talking about how he would respond in such a situation. McGinnis said then he didn’t know how he would act, but when the time came, he delivered. “He gave his life to save his crew and his platoon sergeant,” Thomas said. “He’s a hero. He’s a professional. He was just an awesome guy.”
Three of the soldiers with McGinnis who were wounded that day have returned to duty, while a fourth is recovering in Germany.
For saving the lives of his friends and giving up his own in the process, McGinnis earned the Silver Star. His unit comrades paid their final respects in a somber ceremony here Dec. 11.
McGinnis was born June 14, 1987, and joined the Army right after graduating from high school in 2005. He had been in the Army 18 months and made his mark even before his heroic deed.
“He was a good kid,” said C Company’s senior enlisted soldier, 1st Sgt. Kenneth J. Hendrix. “He had just gotten approved for a waiver to be promoted to specialist.” He also appeared on the Nov. 30 cover of Stars & Stripes, manning his turret.
Besides his military accomplishments, McGinnis leaves his friends and family with memories of a fun-loving, loyal man.
Pfc. Brennan Beck, a 1-26 infantryman from Lodi, Calif., said McGinnis made others feel better. “He would go into a room and when he left, everyone was laughing,” Beck said. “He did impersonations of others in the company. He was quick-witted, just hilarious. He loved making people laugh. He was a comedian through and through.”
While having a witty side, McGinnis took his job seriously.
“He was not a garrison soldier. He hated it back in garrison,” Beck said. “He loved it here in Iraq. He loved being a gunner. It was a thrill; he loved everything about it. He was one our best soldiers. He did a great job.”
Beck has memories of talking all night with McGinnis about where they wanted their lives to go, and said McGinnis always remembered his friends. “When I had my appendix removed, he was the only one who visited me in the hospital,” Beck said. “That meant a lot.”
Another 1-26 infantryman, Pfc. Michael Blair of Klamath Falls, Ore., recalled that McGinnis helped him when he arrived at Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany.
“When I first came to the unit, … he was there and took me in and showed me around,” Blair said. “He was real easy to talk to. You could tell him anything. He was a funny guy. He was always making somebody laugh.”
McGinnis’ final heroic act came as no surprise to Blair. “He was that kind of person,” Blair said. “He would rather take it himself than have his buddies go down.”
The brigade’s senior noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. William Johnson, also had high praise for McGinnis. “Any time when you get a soldier to do something like that – to give his life to protect his fellow soldiers – that’s what heroes are made of,” Johnson said.
It also demonstrates, Johnson continued, that the ‘MySpace Generation’ has what it takes to carry on the Army’s proud traditions.
“Some think soldiers who come in today are all about themselves,” Johnson said. “I see it differently.”
The Silver Star Medal has been approved for McGinnis’s actions December 4, and will be awarded posthumously.
(Article courtesy of Multinational Division Baghdad public affairs.)
Statement from parents of SPC Ross A. McGinnis, December 23, 2006
When the doorbell rang Monday evening December 4th, about 9:30, I wondered who would be visiting at this hour of the evening. But when I walked up to the door and saw two U.S. Army officers standing on the patio at the bottom of the steps, I knew instantly what was happening. This is the only way the Army tells the next of kin that a soldier has died.
At that moment, I felt as if I had slipped off the edge of a cliff and there was nothing to grab onto; just a second beyond safety, falling into hell. If only my life could have ended just a moment before this so that I would not have to hear the words they were about to say. If only I could blink myself awake from this horrible dream. But it wasn't a dream.
As the officers made their way into our living room, I rushed back into our bedroom and told my wife Romayne to get up; we had company. And they were going to tell us that Ross is dead. I knew of no other way to say it.
We rushed back out to meet the officers, and then the appointed spokesperson recited the standard message that Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis had been killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq, that day. They could tell us nothing more except that Army regulations required that the family be notified within 4 hours of the event. They offered their sympathy and support, and the Chaplain prayed for our strength in the days to come, and then they left us alone in shock, grief and disbelief.
In the days that followed, we were informed of the details of his death. The entire world probably knows those details now, since there was so much excitement about his heroic deed. Hundreds of family, friends and acquaintances offered us their words of prayer and comfort. But only time will take the edge off the knives that have wedged into our hearts.
Ross did not become OUR hero by dying to save his fellow soldiers from a grenade. He was a hero to us long before he died, because he was willing to risk his life to protect the ideals of freedom and justice that America represents. He has been recommended for the Medal of Honor, and many think that he deserves to get it without the typical 2 years that Congress has required of late. We, his parents, are in no hurry to have our son bestowed with this medal. That is not why he gave his life. The lives of four men who were his Army brothers outweighed the value of his one life. It was just a matter of simple kindergarten arithmetic. Four means more than one.
It didn't matter to Ross that he could have escaped the situation without a scratch. Nobody would have questioned such a reflex reaction. What mattered to him were the four men placed in his care on a moment's notice. One moment he was responsible for defending the rear of the convoy from enemy fire; the next moment he held the lives of four of his friends in his hands.
The choice for Ross was simple, but simple does not mean easy. His straightforward answer to a simple but difficult choice should stand as a shining example for the rest of us. We all face simple choices, but how often do we choose to make a sacrifice to get the right answer? The right choice sometimes requires honor.
Our Bible tells us that God gave up his only son to die for us so that we may live. But Romayne and I are not gods. We can't see the future, and we didn't give our son to die, knowing that he will live again. We gave him to fight and win and come home to us and marry and grow old and have children and grandchildren. But die he did, and his mother, dad and sisters must face that fact and go on without him, believing that someday we will meet again. Heaven is beyond our imagination and so we must wait to see what it's like.
God bless everybody that has comforted us in our time of grief. But we must not forget the men and women who are still putting their lives on the line; we must keep them in our prayers and keep reminding them with gifts and letters that they are loved and that we want them to return safely to their families.
Private First Class Ross McGinnis, 19, formerly of Wentlings Corners, Knox, Pennsylvania, died December 4, 2006, from wounds received in Bahgdad, Iraq.
Born on June 14, 1987, in Meadville, he was the son of Thomas and Romayne McGinnis of Shippenville.
He was a 2005 graduate of Keystone Jr./Sr. High School and also attended Clarion County Career Center for automotive technology, where he participated in the student compass and performed as secretary/treasurer for the automotive department.
McGinnis also worked at McDonald’s on Perkins Road in Clarion during his high school years. He was a member of the Concert Choir in High School.
Growing up, he was a member of Boy Scout Pack 56 starting as a Tiger Cub, then Cub Scout, Webelo Scout and Boy Scout. He played YMCA basketball and Soccer, and Little League Baseball with the Knox Association teams.
He was a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Knox.
McGinnis enlisted in the U.S. Army on his 17th birthday in Pittsburgh through the Delayed Entry Program. On June 8, 2005, he left Pennsylvania for eight weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. After basic he had six weeks of Advanced Infantry Training, graduating in October 2005. He was then assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany. He was deployed to Iraq in July 2006, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In addition to his parents, he is survived by two sisters, Becky McGinnis of Baltimore, Maryland, and Katie McGinnis of Monroeville; his maternal grandmother, Rosalind Knight of Knox; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. He met Christina Wendel of Ganheim, Bavaria in Germany, who he said was “the love of his life.”
He was preceded in death by his paternal grandparents, Wayne and Alice McGinnis of Emlenton; his maternal grandfather, Maurice E. Knight of Knox; and his maternal uncle Maurice Edward Knight II.
A military memorial service will be held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Twin Church Road in Knox, with full military honors, pastor Deborah Jacobson officiating. His remains will then be transferred to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The date and time of the memorial service will be announced as soon as possible.
The family suggests for anybody who wishes to make a memorial donation to send something to a service member overseas, a veteran or local service member and present it as a gift from PFC Ross McGinnis. Gifts to Ross’s unit may be sent to: SFC Cedric Thomas, 1st Platoon, C/1-26 IN, Task Force Blue Spader, APO AE 09390-1537.
Specialist who dove on grenade nominated for Medal of Honor
13 December 2006
By Michelle Tan
Courtesy of Army Times
Specialist Ross A. McGinnis has been nominated by his commanders for the Medal of Honor, said Major Sean Ryan, a spokesman for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
On December 4, 2006, while on duty in Baghdad, Iraq, McGinnis used his body to smother a grenade, saving the lives of four fellow soldiers. McGinnis died from the blast.
McGinnis, 19, was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, which is attached to 2nd BCT.
Only one soldier and one Marine have received the Medal of Honor since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and there has been debate about why there have been so few recipients of the nation’s highest award for valor.
McGinnis’ family will have a memorial service for him at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Knox, Pennsylvania. His remains will later be transferred to Arlington National Cemetery.
According to information provided Tuesday by Multi-National Division-Baghdad, McGinnis was manning the gunner’s hatch when an insurgent tossed a grenade from above. The grenade flew past McGinnis and down through the hatch before lodging near the radio.
His platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Cedric Thomas, was in the vehicle at the time.
McGinnis “yelled, ‘Grenade. … It’s in the truck,’” Thomas said. “I looked out of the corner of my eye as I was crouching down and I saw him pin it down.”
McGinnis could have escaped the blast, Thomas said. “He had time to jump out of the truck,” he said. “He chose not to. He gave his life to save his crew and his Platoon Sergeant. He’s a hero.”
Three of the soldiers in the vehicle with McGinnis suffered minor injuries. Two of them have returned to duty. The fourth soldier is recovering in Germany.
McGinnis was approved Monday for a Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor, according to a press release from MND-B. In it, he was referred to as a Private First Class. His company commander, Captain Michael Baka, had signed a waiver to promote McGinnis the morning he died. McGinnis was posthumously promoted to Specialist, Baka said.
Soldier who died smothering enemy grenade to be recommended for Medal of Honor
By Mark St.Clair, Stars and Stripes
Thursday, December 14, 2006
A Schweinfurt, Germany-based infantryman who jumped on a grenade to save other troops is being recommended for the Medal of Honor.
The 1st Infantry Division soldier, Specialist Ross Andrew McGinnis, 19, was killed December 4, 2006, while on a combat patrol in Baghdad.
Soldiers in his unit said he used his body to cover a grenade that had been thrown into his Humvee by an enemy fighter on a nearby rooftop.
McGinnis’ actions probably saved the lives of the four other soldiers in the vehicle, his company commander and other officials said during a Tuesday memorial ceremony.
As the U.S.’s highest award for wartime valor, the Medal of Honor is approved sparingly, and only one has been given out since September 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
That award, to Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, was presented to Smith’s widow and two children by President Bush on April 4, 2005 — two years to the day after Smith’s death.
Smith was honored posthumously for his actions during the battle for the Baghdad airport in 2003, when he killed as many as 50 enemy fighters while helping wounded comrades to safety.
On November 10, 2006, while speaking at the opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, Bush announced that a second Medal of Honor would be awarded to Marine Corporal Jason L. Dunham, who also used his body to smother a grenade and protect two of his fellow Marines.
Bush’s announcement came on what would have been Dunham’s 25th birthday, more than 2½ years after his death on April 14, 2004.
A date for the presentation ceremony has not yet been given.
According to the Army’s official Web site, “because of the need for accuracy the (Medal of Honor) recommendation process can take in excess of 18 months with intense scrutiny every step of the way.”
In McGinnis’ case, the recommendation has started with his company commander in 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, Captain Michael Baka.
If approved, it would end with Congress.
Because of this, the award is often erroneously referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor.
A Silver Star already has been awarded to McGinnis for his bravery, and even if he is eventually awarded the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star will stay on his record.
“In essence, he could receive two awards,” said Major Sean Ryan, public affairs officer for 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which McGinnis’ unit currently falls under while deployed.
Ryan also said that if the Medal of Honor is not approved, it could be downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross.
“Blue Spader” Down – Godspeed Ross McGinnis
Posted By Blackfive
Update: Don't forget to honor his parent's request to send a note or gift to the men of Charlie Company. Also, the memorial is scheduled for Sunday
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has this on McGinnis:
…[McGinnis' mother] said her son drew a soldier in kindergarten when he was supposed to picture what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“Ross decided at a very young age that he wanted to join the Army,” she said.
On his 17th birthday — the first day he was eligible — Ross McGinnis stepped into the recruiting station and joined the Army through the Delayed Enlistment Program, she said.
…Ross McGinnis was bright but restless and wasn't a stellar student.
“He wasn't academic,” his mother said. “He was hands on.”
Tom McGinnis said his son's passions – other than the Army – were video games and mountain biking. He later became a car enthusiast while taking automotive technology at the Clarion County Career Center.
“He was always outside, going. He couldn't sit still,” Tom McGinnis said.
Ross McGinnis graduated from Keystone Junior-Senior High School in 2005.
Ross was 6 feet tall, 136 pounds, and a lefty, and he was a good shot with either hand:
During his infantry training, the left-handed McGinnis qualified as an expert shooting left-handed and as a sharpshooter — one step below expert — shooting right-handed, she said.
McGinnis arrived in Iraq in early August and his unit was sent to Eastern Baghdad to help quell the brewing sectarian war. His unit, from Schweinfurt, Germany, was Charlie Company (the ROCK!), 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, and they had seen some tough fighting lately.
Mostly, due to the sentencing of Saddam, no one really seemed to notice that Charlie had taken out 50 insurgents during a violent period following the verdict. McGinnis, as a machine gunner, had been awarded nominated for a Silver Star for his actions in that fight. He was granted a waiver for time in service to be promoted to Specialist, too.
CENTCOM sent an email that describes McGinnis on patrol, on December 4th, standing in the turret. McGinnis was manning his armored humvee's machine gun. His Platoon Sergeant, SFC Thomas, was the vehicle commander.
From a position above the humvee, an insurgent lobbed a grenade that arced through McGinnis' hatch and fell to the humvee console lodging in the radio at McGinnis' feet.
McGinnis shouted, “GRENADE! IT'S IN THE TRUCK!”
Nineteen year old Private First Class Ross McGinnis had a choice to make – get the hell out of the truck through the hatch or…
SFC Cedric Thomas: “I looked out of the corner of my eye as I was crouching down and I saw him pin it down.”
McGinnis did so even though he could have escaped.
“He had time to jump out of the truck,” Thomas said. “He chose not to.”
Thomas remembered McGinnis talking about how he would respond in such a situation. McGinnis said then he didn't know how he would act, but when the time came, he delivered.
“He gave his life to save his crew and his platoon sergeant,” Thomas said. “He's a hero. He's a professional. He was just an awesome guy.”
Three of the Soldiers with McGinnis who were wounded that day have returned to duty, while a fourth is recovering in Germany.
For saving the lives of his friends and giving up his own in the process, McGinnis earned the Silver Star, posthumously. His unit paid their final respects in a somber ceremony here December 11, 2006.
Ross leaves behind his brothers in Charlie Company, his parents Thomas and Romayne McGinnis, his sisters Rebecca and Katie, and his friend in Germany, Christina Wendel.
His chain of command is considering nominating him for the Medal of Honor.
Ross will be buried in Arlington. His parents have an interesting way for you to honor Ross's memory:
A military memorial service is being planned at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Knox (PA) with full military honors.
His remains will then be transferred to Arlington National Cemetery.
His family has suggested for anybody who wishes to make a memorial donation to send something to a service member overseas, a veteran or local service member and present it as a gift from PFC Ross McGinnis.
Gifts to his unit may be sent to:
SFC Cedric Thomas
1st Platoon, C/1-26 IN
Task Force Blue Spader
APO AE 09390-1537
Yesterday, SSG Wayne Marlow interviewed McGinnis's friends in Iraq. What they have to say is after the Jump…
Private First Class Brennan Beck, a 1-26 infantryman from Lodi, California, said McGinnis made others feel better.
“He would go into a room and when he left, everyone was laughing,” Beck said. “He did impersonations of others in the company. He was quick-witted, just hilarious. He loved making people laugh. He was a comedian through and through.”
While having a witty side, McGinnis took his job seriously.
“He was not a garrison Soldier. He hated it back in garrison,” Beck said. “He loved it here in Iraq. He loved being a gunner. It was a thrill, he loved everything about it. He was one our best Soldiers. He did a great job.”
Beck has memories of talking all night with McGinnis about where they wanted their lives to go, and said McGinnis always remembered his friends.
“When I had my appendix removed, he was the only one who visited me in the hospital,” Beck said. “That meant a lot.”
Another 1-26 infantryman, Private First Class Michael Blair of Klamath Falls, Oregon, recalled that McGinnis helped him when he arrived at Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany.
“When I first came to the unit…he was there and took me in and showed me around,” Blair said. “He was real easy to talk to. You could tell him anything. He was a funny guy. He was always making somebody laugh.”
McGinnis’ final heroic act came as no surprise to Blair.
“He was that kind of person,” Blair said. “He would rather take it himself than have his buddies go down.”
Thank you and Godspeed, Ross McGinnis.
NARRATIVE TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF A SILVER STAR TO PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ROSS MCGINNIS
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gunner in 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in Adhamiyah (Northeast Baghdad), Iraq on the afternoon of 4 December 2006. PFC Ross McGinnis' platoon was conducting a combat patrol to deny the enemy freedom of movement in Adhamiyah and reduce the high-level of sectarian violence in the form of kidnappings, weapons smuggling, and murders. 1st Platoon's combat patrol moved deliberately along a major route north towards the Abu Hanifa mosque, passing an IED hole from a recent detonation on a Military Police patrol that very morning. The combat patrol made a left turn onto a side street southwest of the Abu Hanifa Mosque. There were two-story buildings and parked vehicles on either side of the road. PFC McGinnis was manning the M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun on the Platoon Sergeant's M1151 Up-armored HMMWV. His primary responsibility was to protect the rear of the combat patrol from enemy attacks. Moments after PFC McGinnis' vehicle made the turn traveling southwest a fragmentation grenade was thrown at his HMMWV by an unidentified insurgent from an adjacent rooftop. He immediately yelled “grenade” on the vehicle's intercom system to alert the four other members of his crew. PFC McGinnis made an attempt to personally deflect the grenade, but was unable to prevent it from falling through the gunner's hatch. His Platoon Sergeant, the truck commander, was unaware that the grenade physically entered the vehicle and shouted “where?” to PFC McGinnis. When an average man would have leapt out of the gunner's cupola to safety, PFC McGinnis decided to stay with his crew. Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life he announced “the grenade is in the truck” and threw his back over the grenade to pin it between his body and the truck's radio mount. When the grenade detonated, PFC McGinnis absorbed all lethal fragments and the concussion with his own body killing him instantly. His early warning allowed all four members of his crew to position their bodies in a protective posture to prepare for the grenade's blast. As a result of his quick reflexes and heroic measures, no other members of the vehicle crew were seriously wounded in the attack. His gallant action and total disregard for his personal well-being directly saved four men from certain serious injury or death. PFC McGinnis' extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in the keeping of the highest traditions of military service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF A SILVER STARTO PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ROSS MCGINNIS
FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY WHILE SERVING AS AN M2 MACHINE GUNNER DURING OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. ON 4 DECEMBER 2006, AN ENEMY HAND GRENADE WAS THROWN INTO HIS VEHICLE. PRIVATE FIRST CLASS MCGINNIS THREW HIMSELF ON THE HAND GRENADE, ABSORBING THE EXPLOSION WITH HIS BODY AND SAVING FOUR OF HIS COMRADES FROM SERIOUS INJURIES OR POSSIBLE DEATH. HIS ACTIONS REFLECT DISTINCT CREDIT ON H IM, THE MULTI-NATIONAL DIVISION-BAGHDAD, AND THE UNITED STATES ARMY.
18 December 2006:
KNOX – Fallen soldier Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis may have started out a “scrawny teen-ager” who didn't want to take life too seriously, but he will be remembered as the homegrown hero devoted to the well-being of his four fellow infantrymen rather than his own.
“He cared deeply about his family, his community and the nation,” U.S. Army Major General David H. Huntoon Jr. said at a memorial service Sunday outside of Knox, Clarion County. “We mourn his loss and we honor his heroic service. He gave his life for his fellow soldiers and for his country.”
McGinnis, 19, of Knox died December 4, 2006 from wounds he received in Baghdad after a grenade was thrown into his vehicle.
The soldier shouted a warning to the other men before hurling himself onto the grenade – lodged near the Humvee's radio – shortly before it blew up, killing him.
Huntoon formally presented the Silver Star and Purple Heart at the service.
It was estimated that more than 200 members of the community attended the service at St. Paul's Lutheran Church with a large group filling the basement and participating in the ceremony while watching from a TV monitor.
There were also dozens of military service men and women and members of area veterans groups in attendance as well as a strong showing of the Patriot Guard Riders – a motorcycle-riding veterans organization.
Local funeral director David McEntire organized the service, which included broadcasts by speaker outside the facility.
School and shuttle buses were used to transport individuals through the countryside from parking areas a couple miles away at the Interstate 80 exit.
It represented one of the largest community showings for a military memorial service in the region, according to Jack Gordon, chief of information/public affairs for the 99th Regional Readiness Command, U.S. Army reserve headquarters in Pittsburgh.
McGinnis, a 2005 Keystone High School graduate, is now being recommended to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on December 4, 2006.
“There is no greater love than one who had laid down his life for another,” said the Rev. Debbie Jacobson, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Emlenton.
McGinnis, the son of Thomas and Romayne, did not serve and die for honors but “in an attempt to shield his beloved brothers” so they may live, she said.
Jacobson led the service, entitled “A Celebration of Life and Resurrection For Ross A. McGinnis.”
Bells tolled as the gray hearse solemnly arrived outside the church where veterans and military personnel stood, American flags flapping in the wind.
Bagpipes played as the soldier's coffin was slowly carried into the building.
‘100 percent kind of guy'
Jacobson said McGinnis' sisters – Becky and Katie – described him as a “100 percent kind of guy” who could also be “zero percent” at times.
He would have rather put in long hours to build ramps for jumping his BMX bike but not so “willing to mow the lawn or take the garbage out,” she said to laughter.
“He'd rather make you laugh than take life too seriously,” said Jacobson.
But McGinnis started caring about school when he took the auto mechanics course at the Clarion County Career Center.
He then enlisted in the Army at the age of 17.
“He grew into a soldier who took his service very seriously,” Jacobson said.
And his actions on December 4 showed “what a 100 percent kind of guy would do,” she said.
“He's still a son, still a grandson, still a brother, nephew, friend, and a young man,” said the church leader.
The committal hymn, “God Be With You,” was shared as well as the sending hymn, “Lo, How a Rose is Growing,” and hymn of the day “Be Thou My Vision.”
McGinnis was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in Schweinfurt, Germany.
Huntoon is the commandant of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.
He said McGinnis was part of a mission that requires equal measures of courage and compassion.
It is clear to the Army that he was “an outstanding leader and always looked out for his fellow troops,” he said.
A company colonel has been quoted as saying McGinnis demonstrated the most selfless act of any man he's ever known.
“He chose this path because he was a good man and an honorable man,” said Huntoon. “His generosity of spirit shines bright. We salute his honor and inspiration and we remember his brilliant example of selfless service. He will not be forgotten by his country or by the U.S. Army.”
McGinnis was the first Clarion County resident killed in the Iraq war, though other service members have been brought to the area for burial.
Area legislators attending the ceremony included U.S. Congressman John Peterson, state Sen. Mary Jo White, state Rep. Fred McIlhattan, Clarion County commissioners Dave Cyphert, Donna Hartle and Donna Oberlander and others.
State police, Clarion County sheriff's deputies and others provided additional services.
Family friend Deb Keister said her 18-year-old son, Jaycob, had been in Boy Scouts with McGinnis.
“It's a great honor he was a member of our community,” she said. The ceremony “was a great tribute to Ross and he deserves that.”
Classmates are compiling material to include in a keepsake book for his family.
“They're all going to miss him,” Keister said.
Kayla Rhoades and Heidi Snyder, both graduates of 2005, were among those in attendance.
“He made an impact on everyone's lives around here,” Rhoades said.
Both were touched by the community support shown at the service.
“It's amazing how many people were here,” Snyder said.
McIlhattan, a Knox resident, had also requested that all Pennsylvania flags under Gov. Ed Rendell's office be flown at half-staff on Sunday in recognition of McGinnis' sacrifice.
McGinnis, whose promotion to specialist became effective at the time of his death, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia at a later date.
Soldier Sacrificed His Life For Others
Teen Who Covered Grenade in Iraq Is Laid to Rest
By Sandhya Somashekhar
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Under a brilliant midday sun, hundreds of mourners gathered at the grave of Specialist Ross Andrew McGinnis yesterday to pay their respects to a teenager who, in accepting death, saved the lives of four men.
The 19-year-old Army gunner from the outskirts of Pittsburgh was on patrol in Baghdad's Adhamiyah neighborhood Dec. 4 when a grenade sailed through his hatch and into the Humvee, according to official military accounts.
When he realized the four soldiers inside would not be able to escape in time, he leapt into the vehicle and covered the grenade with his body, taking the full brunt of the explosion.
“He had the opportunity to escape,” his father, Thomas McGinnis, said in an interview before the funeral. “He chose not to.”
Ross McGinnis was posthumously promoted from Private First Class to Specialist and awarded the Silver Star. He has also been nominated for the Medal of Honor.
Just after 11 a.m. yesterday, a convoy led by two buses and flanked by the Pittsburgh Patriot Guard Riders rolled up to Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where the new war dead are buried. As the Riders' motorcycles rumbled, hundreds of mourners stepped into the warm sun and silently gathered behind a yellow rope. McGinnis's family sat in green-draped chairs at the grave.
The military funeral rites took place around them with characteristic efficiency, and the crowd watched with customary solemnity. But the chaplain's eulogy was fiery. He spoke passionately of the young man's heroic deeds, gesturing dramatically and stomping his feet.
“As his flesh was torn apart, his name was written in history,” said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Bearfield, the Chaplain. “Truly [God] has a place for your son because he saved innocent lives.”
In 20 minutes, the funeral was over. But Thomas McGinnis said the grief he felt when two Army officers appeared at his front door to tell him that his youngest child was dead will continue for a long time.
“At that moment, I felt as if I had slipped off the edge of a cliff and there was nothing to grab onto,” he wrote in a statement published on washingtonpost.com December 23, 2006. “If only my life could have ended just a moment before this so that I would not have to hear the words they were about to say.”
Born on Flag Day, Ross McGinnis was destined to become a soldier, his father said. In kindergarten, he told his teacher that he wanted to be an “Army man.” He enlisted on his 17th birthday, the first day he was eligible.
Military life apparently suited him. In an article in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, soldiers in his platoon called him the “combat cameraman,” because he was almost never without a camera, and recalled that “shooting big guns and getting paid for it” was his dream job.
Thomas McGinnis said his son was friendly and funny, not particularly inclined toward school but fascinated with cars. On his return, he planned to study automotive technology and pursue a career working on high-performance vehicles.
When Thomas McGinnis learned of the circumstances of his son's death, it made sense that Ross gave his life for his friends, he said.
“His friends were the most important thing in his life,” he said. “He had a way with people, of letting them get close to him and getting to know the real Ross.”
McGinnis was the 320th service member killed supporting the Iraq war to be buried at Arlington.
20 September 2007:
A HERO WHO LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT
Before throwing himself on two grenades lying in the volcanic sands of Iwo Jima, Jack Lucas gave no thought to consequences.
“I didn't think. I just immediately reacted and did what I had to do,” says Lucas, 79, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who today still has shrapnel in his body after somehow surviving the blast on February 20, 1945.
On the second day of the island invasion, Lucas and three other Marines were fighting near an airfield when two grenades landed in their trench.
Lucas saw them first, yelled a warning and dived over another Marine to reach them. He jammed the butt of his M-1 rifle onto the explosive he recognized as a grenade that can explode into fragments, and pushed it several inches into the ash. The other device, a concussion grenade designed to stun enemy soldiers, failed to detonate.
In his autobiography, Indestructible, Lucas describes what happened next.
“After the initial blast, silence filled my universe. I never lost consciousness. The force propelled me into the air, rotating my body 180 degrees. I dropped to the earth. Except for an intense tingling sensation, I had no feeling. I had suffered over 250 entrance wounds.”
He underwent 22 operations and seven months of convalescence. On October 5, 1945, at the White House, President Truman presented Lucas with the Medal of Honor. Lucas was the youngest Marine ever to receive the award.
He remained strong, even serving in the 1960s as a U.S. Army paratrooper, but time and the grenade wounds have taken a toll. Lucas still carries more than 100 pieces of shrapnel in his body. A fragment in his spine requires regular pain-medicine injections. In recent years, deterioration of a right lung damaged by the blast has left him needing oxygen from a portable tank.
He has five children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His youngest great-grandchild is a boy born in February: Lucas Gonsorcik.
Gantt was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He is on medical leave from his civilian job as a corrections officer, and has been diagnosed with PTSD and a mild brain injury. Gantt fights the anger he feels for not having done enough — in his view — to keep Sergeant James “Ski” Witkowski from sacrificing himself on the grenade.
Army Staff Sergeant. Ian Newland spotted the enemy grenade inside the Humvee. Almost simultaneously, he saw Spcecialist Ross McGinnis, 19 — a gunner standing in the turret of the vehicle — lower himself onto it.
“I saw him jam it with his elbow up underneath him,” says Newland, who was sitting inches away. “He pressed his whole body with his back (armor) plate to smother it up against the radios.”
The heat and flash of an explosion followed, and McGinnis was killed. Hours later, after surgery for shrapnel wounds, Newland realized the enormity of what happened: McGinnis had sacrificed himself to save four other soldiers in the Humvee on December 4. “Why he did it? Because we were his brothers. He loved us,” Newland says.
Since the Iraq war began, at least five Americans — two soldiers, two Marines and a Navy SEAL — are believed to have thrown themselves on a grenade to save comrades. Each time, the servicemember died from massive wounds.
Survivors, while deeply grateful for their lives, find the aftermath complicated. According to interviews with a dozen surviving soldiers, sailors and Marines, there remains an overpowering sense of guilt and an unspoken feeling that they need to be worthy of the sacrifice.
“There's always talk (in the Army) about being the hero,” says Newland, 27, now in Schweinfurt, Germany. He has been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury from the December blast and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the military, “everyone always tells their friends, ‘I'd take a bullet for you,' ” Newland says. “I've read books and seen plenty of movies about it. But to actually live through a situation like that, have someone do that, is just — there's nothing else more courageous that a person can do in their entire life. …So basically, I try not to live my life in vain for what he's done.”
Such heroic acts almost always lead to a military review for the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration.
The medal was awarded posthumously in the first instance of such heroism in Iraq to Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, 22, of Scio, New York. He covered a grenade with his helmet on April 14, 2004, and saved the lives of two Marines in western Iraq. Dunham died eight days later.
‘I have to prove myself worthy'
Anyone who wraps himself around an explosive charge cannot block all of its destructive power.
Survivors caught nearby describe intense heat, a shattering pressure wave, dazed awareness, ears ringing or even eardrums burst and a world around them that sounds for several seconds as if it's underwater. Then there's the blood, from muscles, nerves or arteries slashed by shrapnel.
That's just the physical harm.
Emotional damage surfaces later when a survivor tries to square his life with his friend's death, says Navy Lieutenant Commander Shannon Johnson, who counsels frontline combat soldiers in Baghdad.
“The guilt that those left behind have is sometimes compounded by a sense of unworthiness,” she says. “They cannot accept that their lives were worth more than the life of their loved comrade. They are left with the heavy burden of trying to measure up to the great sacrifice so that they could live on. For some, the burden is too much.”
In the battlefield, the military tries to provide counseling for survivors whenever lives are lost.
At home, therapists with the Department of Veterans Affairs say survivor's guilt is among the common issues soldiers and Marines bring home from war.
“Being saved by someone from heroics could lead to a sort of (emotional crisis),” says Ira Katz, head of mental health for the VA. ” ‘He died for me. I really have to prove myself worthy.' And that's probably a very natural response.”
Last September, Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, 25, of Garden Grove, California, fell on a grenade that landed on a rooftop in Ramadi, where he and two other Navy SEALs were stationed as part of a sniper team. Monsoor saved the lives of the other two.
“You think about him every day. And everything pretty much revolves around what he did,” says a 29-year-old Navy Lieutenant with the SEALs, married and the father of one. He declined to be identified as a matter of department policy. “You'd like to tell yourself that you'd do what Mikey did. But until you're faced with that situation, you really don't know.”
Sally Monsoor, a social worker from Garden Grove, California, remembers first meeting two SEALs saved by her son's heroism in Iraq. “I told them to just be as good a person as you can be and good fathers and good family men and do the jobs you need to do, because Mike felt you were worth it,” she recalls.
Later, she reflected on her remarks and felt terrible. “I started thinking, ‘Have I really put more pressure on these men?' ”
Marine Sergeant Nicholas Jones still questions his own worth after a nearly identical experience two years before in Fallujah.
Jones entered a house defended by insurgents when his best friend, Sergeant Rafael Peralta, fell in front of him with a gunshot wound to the neck. Seconds later, an enemy grenade landed near Peralta, who grabbed it and pulled it underneath his chest. The blast killed Peralta immediately. Four other Marines, including Jones, were wounded.
“It's weird to think you get a second chance on life because of someone's unselfishness,” says Jones, 24, of Ontario, California, who suffered shrapnel wounds in the explosion.
“It almost makes you feel less, you know? Less of a person. It's like: Why did somebody go out and do something so unselfish just so that I could have the rest of my life?”
Troubles coping at home
Some survivors have nearly been destroyed in the wake of being saved.
Former Marine Corporal Kelly Miller, of Eureka, California, survived because Dunham, the Medal of Honor winner, fell on that grenade in 2004. As part of Dunham's patrol that day Miller, 24, has agonized endlessly in the intervening years over blame, guilt and whether he should have died, rather than Dunham.
He became introverted and angry, says his mother, Linda Miller. “He went into the self-destructive mode,” she says.
Last September after a night of drinking, he flipped his Nissan sports car. He suffered a broken arm and his girlfriend, Kellyn Griffin, was severely injured. Felony driving charges are pending.
Deborah Dunham, mother of Jason Dunham, wrote a letter on Miller's behalf to the court, explaining that “Kelly has been chasing his personal demons since Jason gave him the gift of a second chance of life.”
A similar struggle consumed Staff Sergeant Jeffery Gantt.
A member of the Virginia National Guard, Gantt was driving a Humvee on October 26, 2005, when the gunner of the vehicle, Sergeant James “Ski” Witkowski, apparently tried to block a grenade from falling inside the vehicle and died in the blast.
“It's almost like time stops. It's like you're outside of your body and you're looking at what's going on,” says Gantt, 37, of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Gantt is on medical leave from his civilian job as a corrections officer, and has been diagnosed with PTSD and a mild brain injury. Gantt fights the anger he feels for not having done enough — in his view — to keep Witkowski from sacrificing himself on the grenade.
“I remember one day I asked myself, ‘Why are you so mad? Why can't you let this go?' And I could feel my chest tighten and I was so (angry),” Gantt says.
His girlfriend of six years, Sheila Ward, says that having his life spared has changed Gantt completely.
“I don't know anything about him (anymore),” she says.
‘Things just happen'
The families of men who gave their lives also struggle with emotional crosscurrents.
Tom McGinnis felt a surge of different emotions over losing his only son: the overpowering grief, pride over the Medal of Honor nomination and wariness about the heroism hoopla. He knew Ross could have rolled out of the gunner's turret and escaped the blast; he felt guilty for nearly wishing his son had done just that.
McGinnis also understood the potential for survivor's guilt when he buried his son at Arlington National Cemetery early this year. After the ceremony, the elder McGinnis met Newland and two other soldiers saved by his son's heroism, and he consoled them.
“I tried to emphasize to them that they can't continue living thinking they're indebted to Ross for what he did,” the father says. “They can't go on for the rest of their lives thinking, ‘I'm here because of Ross.' I wouldn't think Ross would want them to fill that way.
“Things just happen.”
A NAPA auto parts employee from Shippenville, Pennsylvania, McGinnis says he would never want a book or a movie devoted to Ross. He does not want his son depicted as larger-than-life. The father says his son loved rebuilding car engines, worked at McDonald's and had a gift for making people laugh. But he was a disinterested student and barely graduated from high school.
“He wasn't exceptional. He was just like you and me,” Tom McGinnis says.
“He just made a split-second decision (to fall on the grenade). He did what he thought was right. That doesn't make him extraordinary. He just did an extraordinary thing.”
15 December 2007:Private First Class Ross McGinnis' death in Iraq last year profoundly affected two strangers – a young Florida girl and a Los Angeles songwriter.
McGinnis, 19, of Knox in Clarion County, Pennsyvania, dived on a hand grenade tossed by insurgents into his Humvee on December 4, 2006, sacrificing himself but sparing the lives of four squad mates, who were injured.
“When I read about it, it was just something that stood out. He was so brave, and he saved his friends. It was just unbelievable,” said Destany Hotard, a ninth-grader in Jacksonville, Florida.
Hotard, a young singer, says McGinnis' selfless act was a story she wanted to tell with music.
Using her own money, Hotard booked time in a studio and recorded “PFC Ross A. McGinnis.” She posted the song – written by songwriter Seth Jackson – on her MySpace Web page. She tracked down McGinnis' parents, Tom and Romayne, and sent them a copy along with a handwritten letter.
Tom McGinnis says the song reminded him of the moment when two military officers showed up on his doorstep to tell him his son had died in combat on a Baghdad street.
“It was touching and bittersweet,” he said. “It brings back memories of his death and just makes you aware that he's not coming back.”
“He'd be alive today if he had run,” the song goes, “…But he did the thing only the truest friend woulda done. … I gotta wonder would I have done the same.”
Jackson recalled being astonished by a small wire story in his local newspaper that chronicled McGinnis' final act. In the following days, the newspaper printed emotional responses from readers, which convinced Jackson he needed to tell McGinnis' story. He started writing in February, and the song went through several revisions.
“I just couldn't believe someone would do such a thing. He saved four of his friends. We're always reading about the horrible things going on there, and then here was a story about the sacrifice this young kid made,” Jackson said.
As a parent of young children, Jackson empathized with the McGinnis family.
“I just cannot imagine the grief of losing a child. I hope they would be honored, but at the same time, they lost their son. I was scared how they would react,” Jackson said.
McGinnis said he, his wife and two daughters have dealt with Ross' death by pulling together and supporting one another and with an outpouring of support from Knox residents. For three weeks after his death, the family had no time for themselves because of mourners who descended on their home, he said.
“The song was surprising when it was someone who lives so far away who was touched,” said his sister, Katie McGinnis of Penn Hills. “When Ross left, I was worried sick. I tried to stay positive and hope nothing bad happened. But it happened.”
Tom McGinnis thinks often of his only son, a practical joker who went into the Army a 100-pound kid and came out of basic training a man. After Ross joined the Army, word quickly spread of his remarkable ability to do impersonations. Stone-faced drill sergeants quickly began seeking out the young soldier for comic relief, his father said.
“He was a normal, average American kid faced with a situation, who dealt with it honorably. People can't believe because of what he did that it's true, but it is,” McGinnis said.
Ross McGinnis' ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. His comrades have recommended him for a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for bravery. When he was killed, McGinnis was a machine gunner with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division.
Jackson recently received an e-mail from Tom McGinnis, thanking him for the song.
“I'm at a loss for words on how to respond to him,” Jackson said.
Hotard performs her songs at county fairs. It was her vocal coach who suggested the song would be a good one to sing because Veterans Day was approaching, said Hotard's mother, Michelle Howell. It is on a CD that is sent to concert promoters.
Someday, Hotard would like to travel to Pennsylvania to meet the McGinnis family. Like the fellow teenager she sang about, she has plans – she wants to attend college and become a country singer. Ross McGinnis liked country music, too, his father said.
“He is my ultimate hero,” she said. “He seemed friendly and brave – like he would do anything for you.”
Tom McGinnis said he is still hurting, but his thoughts are on the soldiers still fighting.
“There are lots of guys who have suffered a tremendous amount of grief, seeing their friends die. They're going to need a lot of support when they get home,” he said.
McGinnis to receive Medal of Honor
By Michelle Tan
Courtesy of the Army Times
Friday Apr 25, 2008
Specialist Ross McGinnis, who was killed December 4, 2006, in Iraq when he smothered a grenade with his body, will receive the Medal of Honor, sources told Army Times.
McGinnis, 19, is the second soldier to receive the nation’s highest valor award for actions while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, who was killed April 4, 2003, fighting off insurgents in a fierce firefight south of Baghdad, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor two years after he died.
McGinnis, of 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, is credited with saving the lives of four fellow soldiers.
On December 4, 2006, McGinnis was manning the turret in the last Humvee of a six-vehicle patrol in Adhamiyah in northeast Baghdad when an insurgent threw a grenade from the roof of a nearby building.
“Grenade!” yelled McGinnis, who was manning the vehicle's M2 .50-caliber machine gun.
McGinnis, facing backwards because he was in the rear vehicle, tried to deflect the grenade but it fell into the Humvee and lodged between the radios.
As he stood up to get ready to jump out of the vehicle, as he had been trained to do, McGinnis realized the other four soldiers in the Humvee did not know where the grenade had landed and did not have enough time to escape.
McGinnis, a native of Knox, Pennsylvania, threw his back against the radio mount, where the grenade was lodged, and smothered the explosive with his body.
The grenade exploded, hitting McGinnis on his sides and lower back, under his vest. He was killed instantly. The other four men survived.
McGinnis, who was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, will be honored during a ceremony at the White House. The ceremony is expected to take place sometime in June.
It’s longstanding Army policy not to comment on the status of Medal of Honor nominations. The sources who confirmed the information to Army Times asked to remain anonymous.
When contacted by Army Times, McGinnis’s parents declined to comment.
KNOX, Pennsylvania— The mention of Knox hometown hero Ross A. McGinnis still brings tears to the eyes of many in the community as memories of the proud young soldier in uniform come flooding back.
McGinnis, 19, is to be the second soldier to receive the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest valor award — for actions while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On December 4, 2006, he was manning the turret in the last Humvee of a six-vehicle patrol in northeast Baghdad when an insurgent threw a grenade from the roof of a nearby building.
As he stood up to get ready to jump out of the vehicle as he had been trained to do, officials say McGinnis realized the other four soldiers in the vehicle did not know where the grenade had landed and did not have enough time to escape.
He threw his back against the radio mount and smothered the explosive with his body. McGinnis was killed instantly while the other four men survived.
“I feel so honored to have known him I can’t help but think that he was my teacher in some ways,” Keystone High School teacher Erik Sundling said Tuesday.
The Army Times reported on Monday that sources said McGinnis would receive the Medal of Honor.
McGinnis’ father, Thomas, has declined to comment.
Vicky Walters, the principal at Keystone High School, said she had spoken with the family and that it was always believed McGinnis would receive the honor.
She said she still gets goose bumps when she thinks of McGinnis and his sacrifice.
“It’s still very much on our minds here,” said Walters. “This is a very tremendous honor.”
She said the ceremony to award McGinnis the honor posthumously is planned for June 2 and 3 at the White House.
The family will be able to invite a certain number of guests, she said.
“This news is certainly a proud, yet bittersweet moment for the McGinnis family,” said Keystone teacher Bill Irwin. “I am sure I speak for many of Ross’ former teachers, mentors and friends in saying ‘Thank you Ross! Thank you for representing your family, community, school and nation in protecting our freedoms’.”
Irwin, who teaches American history, said being a soldier was what McGinnis wanted.
He enlisted for military service on his 17th birthday — Flag Day, June 14.
“He was just so proud of what he was doing,” said Walters.
Irwin recalls when McGinnis returned to school wearing his uniform after basic training.
“Ross didn’t say much about his training and what the Army expected of him,” he said. “He didn’t have to. The way he wore that uniform said it all.”
Sundling, an English teacher at Keystone, said McGinnis is only the second person in the history of Clarion County to receive the medal.
“I can’t begin to imagine the extremes of emotion that must be felt by his family, a mixture of profound loss and sadness blended with an intense pride of Ross,” he said.
McGinnis was described as a “100 percent guy or a 0 percent guy” at his memorial service.
“I saw the 100 percent Ross many times and it was impressive,” said Sundling.
Locally, McGinnis’ actions leave a lasting effect as he is remembered with a memorial scholarship, the renaming of the Clarion VFW Post 2145, and the recording of a song.
Destany Hotard, a 14-year-old girl from Jacksonville, Fla., flew to Knox to sing at Keystone’s Veterans Day program last year.
She recorded the ballad that was written by Los Angeles-based songwriter Seth Jackson.
“He was a hero I want you all to know all about one of our best, Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis,” is the refrain contained in the song.
Hotard used her own money to book studio time and sent a CD of the song to McGinnis’ parents, Thomas and Romayne.
McGinnis was posthumously promoted to specialist.
Clarion County Commissioner Donna Oberlander said Tuesday the commissioners were happy to hear news of the approval of the Medal of Honor for McGinnis.
“It’s one that is well deserved,” she said.
The first two recipients of the Ross A. McGinnis Service Scholarship were announced last year.
Ryan Seth, who graduated from Keystone High School in 2005 with the hometown hero, was awarded a $1,000 book scholarship while Michelle Strohmyer received the $2,000 outstanding serviceship award.
The McGinnis awards will be made each year and are based on what a student has done to serve people in their extended community.
It’s the result of self-initiated and self-sacrificing efforts rather than academic grades, SAT scores or attendance.
Seth said he and McGinnis were best friends as kids and played soccer and basketball together.
He recalled the day when McGinnis’ mother told him Ross was putting his life on the line every day.
“Ross was killed three weeks later,” said Seth. “Life is short. You have to live it to the fullest.”
Since 2002, Seth has provided approximately 410 hours of service to his community and country.
In May 2006, he and a group from Koinonia Christian Fellowship of Clarion University traveled to New Orleans to help in the recovery process from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Strohmyer has provided more than 1,000 hours of service to her community.
She has been a volunteer certified nurse’s aide, a volunteer firefighter, and a volunteer at elementary school cheer camp.
“The 9-11 terrorist attacks had a huge impact on the direction of my life,” she said. “As I watched the television screen, I could not believe all the men and women who risked their own lives to save others at this tragic time.”
McGinnis was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, who was killed April 4, 2003, fighting off insurgents in a fierce firefight south of Baghdad, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor two years after he died.
The other Clarion County resident to receive the Medal of Honor was Jeremiah Brown, a Civil War veteran who was awarded the citation in June 1896 for action on October 27, 1864, in a battle at Petersburg, Virginia.
Brown, who entered the service out of Rimersburg, was a Captain in Co. K, 148th Pennsylvania Infantry.
Second OIF Soldier to Receive Posthumous Medal of Honor
By Carrie McLeroyWASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 23, 2008) — Spc. Ross McGinnis will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony June 2, two weeks shy of what would have been his 21st birthday.
Just the second U.S. Soldier to receive the medal for actions in Operation Iraqi Freedom, McGinnis began his transformation from scrawny boy to standout Soldier at 17, enlisting in the Army through the Delayed Entry Program in June 2004. Although not remembered as a troublemaker, McGinnis was not interested in school, and spent his teen years struggling to eek by.
“He put us through our trials, definitely. From little up, he liked to push the limits,” his mother, Romayne, said. “You never knew what was going to come out of his mouth or out of his actions.”
In high school, McGinnis never made the honor roll or played sports. According to teachers, he made his mark, but in ways that were uniquely Ross.
“He stood out, but just by bits and pieces,” said Franki Sheatz, McGinnis’s 9th and 11th-grade French teacher at Keystone High School. “When he stood out, a lot of times it was because of his wit, or because he was trying to get away with something. He never did any more or less than a lot of the other kids I had in class, although he was charming in his little way.”
His parents and teachers agreed that the catalyst that sparked a change in McGinnis was his decision to join the military.
“He came to us and said he wanted join the Army, and we accepted that,” said McGinnis’s father Tom. The way we looked at it was that he had no intention of going to school, and there really aren’t very good jobs for a person that doesn’t have higher education. The Army was an opportunity for him to be able to get the kind of education that he wanted.”
The younger McGinnis had aspirations of one day becoming an automotive technician. The Army, in his eyes, was a means to that end – a place where he could serve his country as an infantryman, but receive an off-duty education that would prepare him for a future career.
Once McGinnis made the decision to join the Army, that became his focus. “The different conversations I had with Ross sometimes were over academics and encouraging him to do his best and that he had goals in mind,” Vicky Walters, Keystone High’s principal said. “We were encouraging him to complete those goals…He indicated he would do what it took to get the job done.” He would finish high school so he could join the Army.
His parents shared concerns about their son enlisting during a time of war, but knew if he stayed in Knox, his odds of making something of himself were limited. “He had just as much chance at home of ending up dead as he did in Iraq at that point,” Tom said. “When young men get out of school and they don’t have an education, it’s a dangerous life for them for several years. Something could happen at home as quick as it could over there. I knew that in the Army he was going to have a serious discipline. He was going to be trained, and that would help him stay on the right path.”
McGinnis left his rural Pennsylvania town for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., within days of graduating from Keystone High School, just before his 18th birthday. During the first stage of training, McGinnis’s parents received a phone call from him. “He said the first week was boring, a lot of, ‘Hurry up and wait,’” Romayne said. In subsequent calls, he conveyed his increasing enthusiasm.
“He really liked the physical part of the training. Ross wasn’t one to push a pencil. He wanted to be actively involved,” she said. “He was really excited about the weapons training. While in Boy Scouts, they went to a shooting range once and he really liked that, so it didn’t surprise me when he said he wanted to go with the gunner position.”
According to reports from fellow Soldiers, McGinnis’s interest in weapons was crafted into a skill set that would serve him well in his position as an.50-caliber machine gunner.
Soldier Among Civilians
McGinnis finished basic and then infantry training in Georgia and headed home to Knox on leave before reporting to his first assignment in Germany. The changes in him were evident, and shocking to some.
“He looked so much taller. He wasn’t. I think it was the uniform really,” Romayne said. “But it was, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and, ‘No, ma’am.” And I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ He had a lot of respect, not that Ross ever disrespected us, but there was definitely that attitude that the Army had bred into him already in that short amount of time.”
Tom echoed his wife’s feelings about the new Soldier. “When he came home on leave and he was around civilians, he felt uneasy because other people seemed to be sloppy and lazy as compared to what it was like in the military. He was definitely different and thought differently after he’d gone through the training. It was surprising, because I don’t know if I ever knew anyone like that before, especially my own son. He had learned and grown quite a bit.”
His former teachers saw maturity in him that didn’t exist before he became a Soldier. “He has been described as a 100-percent guy or a zero-percent guy,” Erik Sundling, Ross’s 12th-grade English teacher, said when he talked about the effort McGinnis put forth if he was interested in something, and the lack thereof when he wasn’t. “He came back in uniform and he was the 100-percent Ross. He was very proud to wear the uniform.”
When his family learned that McGinnis’s first assignment would be to a Germany-based infantry regiment scheduled for an Iraq deployment, they worried but wished him well. “I told him, ‘Be safe. Think before you act.’ Any parent would say that to their child, I’m sure. We thought he was coming back,” Romayne said.
McGinnis arrived in Schweinfurt, Germany in November 2005 and reported to 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment with an influx of Soldiers as the company was preparing for its upcoming mission to Iraq. According to retired Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, he immediately became in instrumental part of the team.
“His personality and humor made him stand out. He was the comedian out of everybody,” Newland, a squad leader with 1st Platoon at the time, said. “You could be having the worst day in the field, or the worst day in the rear “D”, and Ross would come in a room and everybody would be laughing within three minutes.”
Ross was known as the funny guy with an infectious smile from the day he joined the unit, Newland said. “I have this image of him, even today. We were in Germany and he was up on a .50-cal gunning. We had been doing a convoy for probably around eight hours. I was in the vehicle behind him and he turned around and smiled at my gunner. His teeth were just covered in dirt from being up on the gun, but he’s just still smiling ear to ear. That right there was just him.”
His gifts extended beyond platoon funny man according to his leaders, who said he was also a top-notch Soldier.
“I had four platoons, roughly 190 Soldiers in my command. There were certain Soldiers that would stand out. McGinnis was definitely one of those Soldiers,” said Maj. Michael Baka, commander of C Company from June 2005 to March 2007. “He was one of the top members of his platoon. His platoon sergeant handpicked him to serve as the machine gunner on his Humvee, which speaks highly of his performance.” McGinnis excelled in weaponry, marksmanship and physical training as well.
He was also a born leader, Newland said, who knew how to read and react to different Soldiers in a variety of situations. “People responded to him, and he knew how to respond to people’s personalities and characters. That is one of the hardest traits to build as a leader, to be able to adapt, per Soldier. He had that naturally.”
The first unit from the battalion on the ground, C Co. arrived in Iraq Aug. 4, 2006 following a week of training in Kuwait. Combat Outpost Apache in Adamiyah, a northeast section of Baghdad steeped in sectarian violence, was to be their home. The area had lacked a U.S. presence for eight months.
“There were a lot of kidnappings, killings and a lot of enemy activity in our sector,” Baka said. Insurgent attacks, sniper fire, grenade contact and IEDs were all part of daily life in Adamiyah.
In October, just two months into the deployment, C Co. had already lost two of its Soldiers; Staff Sgt. Garth Sizemore to a sniper’s bullet, and Sgt. Willsun Mock in an IED explosion. In November, after Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity, the battalion fought a five-hour battle against enemy insurgents who attacked the outpost.
By December, the men of 1/26 were battle hardened, but McGinnis had a way of taking the focus off the tragedies.
“He was constantly motivating and positive all the time, and that really helped the platoon out a lot. He was key in our platoon because of that,” Newland said. “Right after we lost Sgt. Sizemore, we were all really shocked – it really hit home. And then Sgt. Mock – we were getting pretty depressed. But Ross, he knew how to take our attention off of that – all of us – from senior leaders to your private Joe. He knew how to respond.”
That Fateful Day
Dec. 4, 2006, 1st Plt. was gearing up to patrol the streets of Adamiyah and deliver a 250-kilowatt generator to provide increased electricity to the area. Insurgents had been lobbing grenades at vehicles on patrols, and in response the platoon had honed it’s reaction skills through a series of training scenarios Newland likened to fire drills. He had experienced such an incident nine days earlier on patrol, but the grenade turned out to be a dud.
As they rolled out of Apache’s gates, the men in the six-vehicle patrol felt up to their mission, despite ever-present dangers, as they did each time they patrolled Adamiyah’s streets, Baka said. “We had only just left the gate. We were moving deliberately down the streets, and had just taken a left-hand turn on a main road just south of Abu Hanifah mosque.”
Baka’s was the fourth vehicle in the order of movement. The platoon sergeant’s vehicle was the last, as is typical for a standard patrol, and McGinnis manned its machine gun.
According to official statements from Sgt. Lyle Buehler (the driver), Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas (platoon sergeant and truck commander), Spc. Sean Lawson (medic) and Newland, McGinnis sat in the gunner strap, .50-cal at the ready, facing backward to ensure rear security. Buehler and Thomas rode in the front of the vehicle, and Newland and Lawson in the back.
As the sixth vehicle made the left turn, Baka heard a loud explosion. His initial thought was that a grenade had exploded outside his own up-armored Humvee. Baka’s machine gunner got on the intercom and said, “Sir, it looks like our last vehicle got hit.” All four of the Humvee’s doors had been blown off. Baka ordered his vehicle and the one behind it to turn around. “Once I saw the vehicle I knew right away that we had a hand grenade that had entered the vehicle, and that we had a large number of casualties,” he said.
Baka got a new driver for the crippled but still running Humvee, and they headed back to Apache. He said he knew the Soldiers had sustained injuries, but did not know to what extent until arriving at the outpost. He didn’t know that McGinnis was dead, or that he died a hero.
Thomas pulled Baka aside within minutes of arriving at Apache and said, “Sir, McGinnis saved our lives today.” Then he told the story that would support that statement.
An insurgent on a nearby rooftop threw a grenade at McGinnis’s vehicle. He unsuccessfully attempted to deflect the grenade, and it entered the vehicle behind him. McGinnis quickly announced, “Grenade!”
According to official accounts by survivors, McGinnis stood up and was preparing to jump out of the vehicle. “That is what the machine gunner is supposed to do,” Baka said. “He’s supposed to announce the grenade, give a fair amount of time for people in the vehicle to react, and then he’s supposed to save himself. No one would have blamed him if he did that, because that is what he was trained to do.”
This time, the 19-year-old Soldier would not heed his training.
The other Soldiers asked, “Where?” McGinnis’s response – “It’s in the truck!”
McGinnis saw the grenade sitting on the radio mount behind him and realized the others weren’t aware of its location. They were combat-locked in the Humvee and would not have time to escape. As he gave his response, he pushed the gunner strap out from under him and laid his back on top of the grenade. It detonated, killing him instantly.
Buehler and Thomas received minor shrapnel injuries, and Lawson suffered a perforated eardrum and concussion. Newland received more of the blast and was severely wounded, but would survive. “The driver and truck commander I am certain would have been killed if that blast had taken full effect,” Baka said.
Newland, who was medically retired because of his injuries, was able to protect himself because of McGinnis’s warning. “He put his arm over his face, which I think saved his life, because a piece of shrapnel hit him in the arm. Another hit him in the chin and some in his legs. But he’s alive today,” Baka added.
Within 24 hours of McGinnis’s sacrifice, Baka gathered statements from the survivors and wrote the recommendation for his Medal of Honor. He received the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor, as an interim award.
Magnitude of his Sacrifice
“The first time it became full magnitude for me was when we were loading his body onto the helicopter for the hero flight – that’s standard,” Baka said. The unit held a small, informal ceremony and Baka led them in a prayer, as there was no chaplain at the combat outpost. As the helicopter flew away, they saluted the young man who laid down his life so the men he loved and served with could live.
“We have hero flights for every Soldier, and every Soldier that gives his life’s a hero. But McGinnis, in my mind, is the definition of hero,” Baka said. “From this day forward if anyone ever asks me to define the word hero, I would simply tell them the story of Spc. Ross McGinnis and the actions he took that day to save four of his brothers.”
For the men who survived, each breath they take serves as a reminder of McGinnis’s courageous sacrifice.
“By all means I should have died that day. He gave me a life that he can’t have now,” Newland said. “There isn’t a single day or hour that goes by that I don’t take in everything. The smell of my daughter’s hair, the smile my son gives me out of nowhere, the soft touch of my wife’s hand just driving in the car. Normally those are things people might take for granted. I’m able to appreciate and have these things all over again, every day, every hour, because of what Ross did.”
Regular Guy Who did an Extraordinary Thing
Tom McGinnis is still adjusting to the fact that his son, who he described as average, often to the point of being an underachiever, is receiving the Medal of Honor.
“I never pictured what a Medal of Honor winner is supposed to look like, but I guess I would think of somebody like a John Wayne character in the movies, where the guy is macho and tough and fear is nothing,” Tom said. “But of course, that’s not anywhere close to what my son, Ross, was like. Although he had very little fear in him, he wasn’t a tough, macho type of person. He was just like you and me.” For those outside the Army closest to McGinnis, he was a regular guy who came through for his friends when it mattered.
Remembering Ross McGinnis
For his brothers in arms, the best way to remember McGinnis is to tell the story of what he did for them Dec. 4, 2006, and to live their lives every day with purpose and meaning.
“I think for me to thank him, is to do everything I can to live my life to the fullest,” Newland said. “Because if he can have courage like that, if he can give up his 19-year-old life, then I can live the rest of my life, however long it is, to every day’s fullest.”
The family McGinnis left behind still wrestles with his hero status and the wounds that haven’t had a chance to heal. Tom and Romayne said the constant focus on their son and what he did honors his memory, but keeps already raw emotions on the surface.
“It’s been good, because people want to keep his memory alive, and people do things to show you that it really meant a lot to them,” Tom said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t give us a chance to just drop it for a while…it keeps that wound fresh. It’s painful, but eventually once everything dies down, then I think that the healing process will start.”
The McGinnis’s remember their son as an average kid who made mistakes but found purpose and direction as he became a young man, just like many other kids out of high school. For them, it is difficult to think of Ross as the larger-than-life character others may see him as because of his sacrifice.
“I’ve had people ask me if I’d like a book or a movie written about him, and I say, ‘No.” They would have to write so much into this to make it readable or viewable that Ross wouldn’t even be in there. It wouldn’t be him,” Tom said. “It would be somebody else, because his life was dull, boring and nothing to write about. He was just an ordinary person who, when it came time, did the right thing, and that’s the most important thing to remember about him.”
(This story was written from videotaped interviews of the sources. Sergeant First Class Pete Mayes and Staff Sergeant Ray Flores of Soldiers Radio and Television).
24 May 2008:
Knox hometown hero Specialist Ross A. McGinnis will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, during a private White House ceremony Monday, June 2, 2008.
The White House formally issued the announcement Friday.
McGinnis “distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism,” White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said.
U.S. Congressman John Peterson (R-5th) said in a statement Friday “It is with deep gratitude and sorrow that I recognize the selfless act Ross McGinnis performed on December 4, 2006.”
“This young man, just 19 years old, was a soldier's soldier who enlisted in the Army to fight for causes larger than any individual – freedom and liberty. Ross gave his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers – an act nothing short of heroic,” Peterson's statement said.
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 9:50 a.m. in the East Room of the White House with President Bush presenting the Medal of Honor to McGinnis' parents, Thomas and Romayne.
Accompanying events and activities are being planned over a two-day period.
“This courageous act not only defined Specialist McGinnis as a soldier but it is also a testament to his rural Pennsylvania upbringing where love for country runs deep,” said Peterson. “Born and raised in the small Clarion County town of Knox, Ross was a high-spirited son, brother and friend to many. He had a contagious sense of humor and a trademark smile that lit up every room he entered.”
“Specialist McGinnis is now etched into American history where he will always be remembered for his strong sense of duty to serve his country and his unmatched selflessness,” said Peterson.
Only a certain number of guests will be permitted to attend the private ceremony.
McGinnis was nominated by his superiors for the Medal of Honor and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor in combat.
It was announced earlier this month that a U.S. Army multi-purpose machine gun range in Fort Benning, Georgia, will be named after McGinnis.
On December 4, 2006, he was manning the turret in the last Humvee of a six-vehicle patrol in northeast Baghdad when an insurgent threw a grenade from the roof of a nearby building.
As he stood up to get ready to jump out of the vehicle as he had been trained to do, officials say McGinnis realized the other four soldiers in the vehicle did not know where the grenade had landed and did not have enough time to escape.
He threw his back against the radio mount and smothered the explosive with his body. McGinnis was killed instantly while the other four men survived.
One of those men – Staff Sgt. Ian Newland – was hit in the face and all four of his limbs by shrapnel. He was also diagnosed with a brain injury and considers himself lucky to be alive, thinking of McGinnis every day.
“An average man would have leapt out of the gunner's cupola to safety,” the Army said in its official account. “Pfc. McGinnis decided to stay with his crew. Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life . . . he threw his back over the grenade.”
Lieutenant Colonel Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said Friday that McGinnis easily could have jumped out of the vehicle and saved himself.
“The instinct is, jump out of the vehicle, but his four buddies were in the vehicle with him…and he chose to place himself on top of the grenade and absorb the impact, and it saved their lives,” Edgecomb said.
McGinnis was the youngest of three children and was known as something of a troublemaker in his youth.
“He'd remind you more of Bart Simpson than anything else – you know, sort of an underachiever,” said his father, Thomas McGinnis. “But when it really meant something, he produced.”
McGinnis was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany. He was posthumously promoted to Specialist.
VFW Post 2145 in Clarion was renamed this year in his honor, and Knox residents created a memorial bench at the high school.
A memorial scholarship has been established in his name through Keystone SMILES, and Florida teen-ager Destany Hotard was inspired to record a ballad for him.
Current plans are to construct the Army range in 2011 as part of the department's expansion as it prepares to become the Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard