Spc. Ross McGinnis to receive MOH-Army Times

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McGinnis to receive Medal of Honor

Spc. Ross McGinnis, who was killed Dec. 4, 2006, in Iraq when he smothered a grenade with his body, will receive the Medal of Honor, sources told Army Times.

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McGinnis, 19, is the second soldier to receive the nation’s highest valor award for actions while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sgt. 1st 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 Dec. 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, Pa., 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.

In addition to McGinnis and Smith, two other service members have received the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq: Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor. Only one Medal of Honor has been awarded for actions in Afghanistan, to Lt. Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL.

Each of those awards was presented posthumously.

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2008/04/army_mcginnisMOH_050508w/
 

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This article is in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

http://post-gazette.com/pg/08132/880874-85.stm

From troublesome boy to Medal of Honor.

KNOX, Pa. -- Army Spc. Ross McGinnis, a kid who hated school and even got expelled for buying marijuana on campus, did more than turn his life around.

He saved the lives of four fellow soldiers when he used his body to cover a grenade that an Iraqi insurgent threw from a rooftop into an Army Humvee.

Spc. McGinnis, atop the truck in its machine-gun turret, could have dived to safety. Instead, he jumped into the Humvee and pinned the grenade between his back and the vehicle's radio mount.

The grenade exploded a second or two later, killing Spc. McGinnis at age 19.

So powerful was the blast that it nearly took the life of a second soldier, even though Spc. McGinnis had turned himself into a shield to protect the others. Shrapnel hit Staff Sgt. Ian Newland in the face and all four limbs. Doctors also diagnosed him with a brain injury.

Mr. Newland, 27, a Minnesota native, has settled in Centennial, Colo., with his wife and two children. Lucky to be alive, he thinks of Spc. McGinnis every day.

His hope is to be at the White House next month when President Bush posthumously awards Spc. McGinnis the Medal of Honor, America's highest military award.

The Army already has authorized the Medal of Honor for Spc. McGinnis, but will not confirm it until the White House staff makes the announcement.

Tom and Romayne McGinnis, parents of the fallen soldier, say it is difficult to think of their skinny, rambunctious son as a national hero.

"He'd remind you more of Bart Simpson than anything else -- you know, sort of an underachiever," said Tom McGinnis, 58. "But when it really meant something, he produced."

In Knox, a Clarion County town of 1,000 people, the McGinnises raised two academically gifted daughters and Ross. He was the youngest and by far the most difficult, Tom McGinnis said.

Ross was bright but undisciplined. School did not interest him, so he paid almost no attention to it. Ross seemed determined never to open a book, and his performance reflected that.

"He was a D student. His goal was to pass," his father said.

At age 14, in eighth grade, Ross bought marijuana from a classmate and foolishly discussed the transaction at Keystone Junior-Senior High School. Staff members searched his locker, where they found a couple of knives, his father said.

Ross had no malicious intent, but this was less than two years after the mass murders at Columbine High in Colorado. School districts across the country no longer had patience for students holding weapons.

The school board expelled Ross and the district attorney prosecuted him in juvenile court. He spent a year on probation. During that time, he had to get permission from his probation officer to go out in the evening.

Embarrassed and stung by the loss of freedom, he began to see that following the rules was better than the alternative, his father said.

Even so, Ross slipped up once. He hid a bicycle for a friend who had stolen it. This indiscretion could have violated his probation and sent him to a juvenile lockup.

But Ross admitted what he had done when questioned by a state policeman who knocked on the door. Even when the cause was wrong or stupid, Ross had a habit of trying to help his buddies.

After his banishment from an alternative school, Ross got a break. Keystone readmitted him for ninth grade.

His behavior improved, but his grades did not. The result was that he seemed destined to live life on the sidelines.

Skilled at soccer, baseball and especially basketball, Ross dreamed of playing on the school teams. But his poor grades left him ineligible.

"He was disappointed he couldn't play, but that didn't motivate him to study harder," Tom McGinnis said.

Franki Sheatz, his French teacher in ninth and 11th grades, said he preferred mischief to studying.

"He was a stinker," she said.

Ross was floating through high school. College was out of the question for him. Then, all at once, he became interested in joining the Air Force. Until then, only cars and sports seemed to energize him.

Answering Army's call
An Army recruiter talked to Ross about this time. He immediately forgot about the Air Force. The Army's pitch -- "Be all you can be" -- seemed tailored for somebody who had gotten little out of his natural talents.

He committed to the Army during his junior year of high school, pledging to enlist the following year, after he graduated.

At that point, he was transformed. Vicky Walters, principal of the Keystone Junior-Senior High School, said Ross began checking graduation requirements with her. He wanted to make sure he did everything necessary to get his diploma so he could become a soldier.

School became less onerous because he enrolled at the Clarion County Career Center, where he studied automotive technology for half the day.

"He was probably one of my best students. He was really a car guy," said Brent Johnson, his instructor.

In spring of 2005, Ross graduated from Keystone and then headed to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. No longer did he stand out as a bad apple or somebody who took the easy but unproductive way.

He volunteered to drill with heaviest weaponry, even though he was among the thinnest soldiers. The Army listed him at 6 feet tall and 136 pounds. His dad says he was probably closer to 160, but skinny nonetheless.

His confidence grew by the day. After three weeks, he phoned his parents to report that the drill instructors had yet to call his name for a mistake. Ross, the kid who had annoyed teachers with his misbehavior, was becoming the soldier who performed every task by the book.

The Army sent him to Schweinfurt, Germany, and assigned him to a combat team in the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment.

Today, most polls say about two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Sentiment against the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was nearly as high when Ross enlisted in the Army.

A contrarian by nature, he was never influenced by polls.

"He really believed we were doing the right thing," Tom McGinnis said.

His unit deployed to Iraq in August 2006. This period is memorable to Tom because of an e-mail exchange he had with his son.

Ross reviewed his young life and wrote an apology for all the trouble he had caused as a boy. His father, a small, quiet man who works at an auto parts store, says guilt gnaws at him, too. He says he wishes he could have been a better provider.

The exchange of e-mails left Ross feeling emotional. At one point, he wrote a message to his father saying, "You SOB. You made me cry."

Ross then asked every soldier who happened by to read the e-mail his dad had sent.

He had bonded with the men in his unit, regarding them as his friends or perhaps the brothers he never had.

Final, fatal mission
On the morning of Dec. 4, 2006, he began a mission with the rank of private first class. Positioned atop the Humvee in the gunner's hatch, he had the clearest view of the volatile neighborhood of Adhamiyah in Baghdad.

Four other soldiers -- Sgt. Newland, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, Sgt. Lyle Buehler and Pfc. Sean "Doc" Lawson -- were in the Humvee.

The driver, Sgt. Buehler, curled around a corner. It was then that Pfc. McGinnis saw the hand grenade coming at them. The others would later report that he must have tried to bat it away, as they felt him moving in the turret.

Pfc. McGinnis shouted a warning -- "Grenade!" -- before the explosive dropped into the Humvee.

"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."

The explosion blew open the doors of the Humvee and sprayed the other soldiers with shrapnel. Sgt. Newland, the most seriously injured, came home for medical treatment.

The others remained in combat. These men often hear the word "hero." Pfc. McGinnis showed them what it meant.

Almost immediately, the Army promoted Pfc. McGinnis to the rank of specialist and his superiors nominated him for the Medal of Honor. He posthumously received the Silver Star, third-highest award for valor in combat, but this was described from the beginning as "an interim medal."

Two of the other soldiers, Sgt. Thomas and Pfc. Lawson, are from East Texas. Their congressman went to the House floor and asked that the Pennsylvania boy who saved them receive the Medal of Honor.

Tom and Romayne McGinnis say they are certain Ross never thought of medals. Comradeship drove him.

"What he did was a voluntary sacrifice," Tom McGinnis said.

He says he believes the other four soldiers in the Humvee would have been just as aggressive in smothering the grenade had they been in Ross' position.

Mrs. Walters, the high school principal, is in awe of what Ross did, giving his life so his unit mates could have theirs.

"I feel very honored to have known Ross and to be have been part of his life," she said. "How do you raise a son to do what he did?"

Tom McGinnis looks back and simply says, "Ross was a handful. But when he committed to something, nothing stopped him."

At Keystone Junior-Senior High, six of the 114 students in this year's senior class are joining the military.

One of them, Caleb Rusnak, said Spc. McGinnis inspired him to enlist in the Marines. "The way he passed -- people should remember that," he said.

VFW Post 2145 in Clarion has been renamed for Spc. McGinnis. Knox residents created a memorial bench at the high school in his honor.

The bench and a plaque in the McGinnises' tidy mobile home carry variations of the same statement summing up Ross' sacrifice: "There is no greater demonstration of devotion than to lay down your life for another."

Tom McGinnis says he appreciates all the tributes, but they come with a price.

"It's good to know people feel the way they do about Ross, but it keeps that memory raw. It's like the knife keeps turning."

His troublesome boy turned into a brave man. But Tom McGinnis calls his son's life "a short story, and it doesn't have a happy ending."
 
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