WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Spc. Ross Andrew McGinnis threw his body onto a live grenade to save the lives of four of his fellow soldiers, there wasn’t time for the 19-year-old to contemplate the honors that would be bestowed upon him during a White House ceremony years later. It was an instant sacrifice of one for the many, and a choice he made without hesitation.
Growing up in Knox, Pennsylvania, with his parents and two sisters, McGinnis attended Clarion County public schools, played sports and was in Boy Scouts. After he graduated from Keystone Junior-Senior High School in 2005, he took classes in automotive technology at the Clarion County Career Center and worked part-time at McDonald’s.
McGinnis’ mother said he knew early in life that he wanted to be a soldier. He went to the Army recruiting station on his 17th birthday, June 14, 2004, to sign up. McGinnis trained at Fort Benning, Georgia and was sent to Schweinfurt, Germany before being deployed to eastern Baghdad, Iraq, in 2006.
When he was killed, Pfc. McGinnis was serving as an M2 .50 caliber machine gunner with 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment as it supported operations against insurgents. Described by his commanders as a natural-born leader and the platoon’s comedian, McGinnis smiled broadly in a picture on the cover of Stars and Stripes just days before he was killed.
According to the official report, McGinnis was manning the machine gun as his platoon patrolled Adhamiyah, Iraq on Dec. 4, 2006. That morning, his company commander, Capt. Michael Baka, signed a waiver to promote McGinnis to specialist. McGinnis was promoted posthumously.
The six vehicle convoy of Humvees left Forward Operation Base Apache in the afternoon, tasked with finding a place to install a generator that would provide electricity to more than 100 homes.
An insurgent lobbed a fragmentation grenade into McGinnis’ vehicle, which was the last in the convoy, from a nearby rooftop and through the turret’s open hatch. McGinnis was guarding the convoy’s rear and yelled “Grenade!" as he tried to deflect it. The grenade fell inside the Humvee, but only McGinnis saw where it went. Seeing his comrades trapped, he threw his back over the grenade, pinning it between his body and the vehicle’s radio.
The blast killed McGinnis instantly, but his actions saved the lives of the other four soldiers in the vehicle, who survived with only minor injuries.
McGinnis was buried in Arlington National Cemetery: Section 60, Site 8544, on March 23, 2007. Two busloads of mourners traveled through the night from Knox to meet more family and friends under a cloudless blue sky to say goodbye to the heroic fallen soldier. Three of the soldiers who were in the Humvee were able to make the trip from Germany and Iraq to attend.
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an M2 .50-caliber Machine Gunner, 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in Adhamiyah, Northeast Baghdad, Iraq, on 4 December 2006. That afternoon his platoon was conducting combat control operations in an effort to reduce and control sectarian violence in the area. While Private McGinnis was manning the M2 .50-caliber Machine Gun, a fragmentation grenade thrown by an insurgent fell through the gunner's hatch into the vehicle. Reacting quickly, he yelled "grenade," allowing all four members of his crew to prepare for the grenade's blast. Then, rather than leaping from the gunner's hatch to safety, Private McGinnis made the courageous decision to protect his crew. In a selfless act of bravery, in which he was mortally wounded, Private McGinnis covered the live grenade, pinning it between his body and the vehicle and absorbing most of the explosion. Private McGinnis' gallant action directly saved four men from certain serious injury or death. Private First Class McGinnis' extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army."
McGinnis was also awarded the Silver Star posthumously on Dec. 11, 2004.
In May 2009 the Pittsburgh Military Entrance Processing Center renamed the Oath Room, where new recruits take their oaths to defend our nation, for McGinnis.
On Nov. 11, 2009, President Barack Obama paid his respects at McGinnis’ grave during a Veterans Day commemoration and left a presidential coin at the gravesite.
McGinnis’ former commander, now Lt. Col. Baka, found himself serving alongside the fallen soldier again as a member of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. The “Old Guard” is tasked with, among other things, the annual placement of flags at each headstone in Arlington on Memorial Day. Baka made sure he was the one to honor McGinnis.
The U.S. Postal Service also rededicated the Knox Post Office in honor of Army Specialist Ross A. McGinnis in Oct. 2016.
The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center in Columbus, Georgia dedicated a statue of McGinnis in Oct. 2017 as part of its Global War on Terrorism Memorial. The statue is one of nine soldiers that represents an infantry team, but the only statue bearing the likeness of an actual person is that of McGinnis.
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