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- The People Behind The Sacrifice
Army Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis
Died December 4, 2006 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
19, of Knox, Pa.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Schweinfurt, Germany; died Dec. 4 of injuries sustained when a grenade was thrown into his vehicle in Baghdad.
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Self-sacrificing courage: When a grenade hit his Humvee, Spc. Ross McGinnis saved four others instead of himself
By Michelle Tan
The convoy of six Humvees left Forward Operating Base Apache the afternoon of Dec. 4.
The mission was to patrol the streets of Adhamiyah in northeast Baghdad and find a place to put a 250-kilowatt generator that would provide electricity for more than 100 homes.
Shortly after they left their compound, the soldiers of 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, turned off a major roadway and onto a side street.
The street was lined on both sides with parked cars and two-story buildings.
As the convoy was stopped on the street, less than a mile from FOB Apache, an insurgent standing on a nearby rooftop threw a grenade into the sixth, and last, Humvee.
“Grenade!” yelled Spc. Ross 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.
Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, 1st Platoon’s platoon sergeant, immediately looked up at McGinnis.
“Where?” Thomas yelled.
“The grenade is in the truck!” replied McGinnis, who was standing up and getting ready to jump out of the vehicle.
“McGinnis turned and looked down and realized no one in the truck knew where the grenade was,” said Capt. Michael Baka, his company commander. “He knew everyone had their doors combat-locked and they wouldn’t be able to get out.”
Instead of jumping out of the truck to save his own life, like he had been trained to do, McGinnis threw his back against the radio mount, smothering the explosive with his body.
“I looked out of the corner of my eye as I was crouching down and I saw him pin it down,” Thomas said in a statement provided by Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
McGinnis had time to jump out of the truck, Thomas later told Army Times.
“For him to jump in and out, I’ve seen him do it day in and day out. He can get out in a second ... but he didn’t. He stayed there,” Thomas said. “When I think about it, I just get shocked because he always said, ‘Sergeant T, if a grenade fell in, I wouldn’t know what I’d do.”
The grenade exploded as soon as McGinnis covered it, said Baka, who was in the convoy’s fourth Humvee.
The blast filled the vehicle with black smoke and debris and blew the driver’s door and right passenger’s door wide open, Thomas said. The machine gun was blown off its mount, and Thomas’ door was thrown off its hinges.
The explosion hit McGinnis on his sides and his lower back, under his vest. He was killed instantly.
The other four soldiers in the Humvee suffered relatively minor injuries.
For his heroic actions on that day, McGinnis was nominated for a Medal of Honor, said Maj. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. McGinnis’ unit — part of the 1st Infantry Division — is attached to 2nd BCT while in Iraq.
Only two service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: one Marine and one soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who was killed in action April 4, 2003.
On Dec. 11, McGinnis was approved for a Silver Star, the third highest award for valor. The Silver Star can be awarded in the Iraq theater; nominations for higher valor awards must be reviewed by the Army awards branch.
“I felt very strongly, it was very clear to me that his acts were completely selfless on his part, and without him doing that, I probably would have had four soldiers in that platoon killed or seriously wounded, to include the platoon sergeant and platoon medic,” Baka said.
McGinnis’ heroism “made coping with his death easier for the soldiers here,” he said.
Before McGinnis died, C Company already had lost two soldiers since deploying to the combat zone in August. Staff Sgt. Garth Sizemore was killed Oct. 17 by a sniper and Sgt. Willsun Mock was killed Oct. 22 when an armor-defeating device struck his Humvee. The blast killed Mock and an interpreter and wounded three other soldiers.
‘Very young, very eager’
McGinnis, who shared his June 14 birthday with the Army, was 19 when he died.
A 2005 graduate of Keystone High School in Knox, Pa., a town of about 1,100 people, McGinnis enlisted in the fall of his senior year.
“I remember that he was very dedicated to completing his graduation requirements so that he could go on to basic training,” said Vicky Walters, the school’s principal and a longtime friend of the soldier’s family.
McGinnis had a lot of friends, Walters said.
“He was a fun-loving guy,” she said. “He was always in good humor. He was always very respectful.”
McGinnis arrived at C Company in October 2005, Baka said. Many soldiers from the Schweinfurt, Germany-based battalion had left the unit for new assignments or careers outside the Army, and McGinnis was part of a crop of new soldiers assigned to the unit.
“He was very eager to learn,” Baka said. “He was only 18 years old when he arrived at the unit, very young, very eager.”
Baka, 30, and his soldiers arrived in Iraq on Aug. 4 to help ease the sectarian violence that was tearing through Baghdad.
On the morning of Dec. 4, Baka signed a waiver that would allow him to promote McGinnis to specialist. The young soldier died later that day, and was posthumously promoted to E-4.
It’s not unusual for insurgents to throw grenades at his soldiers as they drive by, but the explosives typically land outside the up-armored vehicles, Baka said.
When the grenade exploded inside McGinnis’ vehicle, Baka said he knew right then what it was.
“This blast was very loud, and immediately following, there was gunfire,” Baka said.
He instantly ordered his driver to turn the Humvee around.
“I saw two soldiers walking to another vehicle, wounded,” he said. “I knew right away a grenade made it into the gunner’s hatch.”
Thanks to the warnings McGinnis yelled down to his fellow soldiers, everyone in the truck had time to tuck their heads down and protect themselves, Baka said.
The explosion knocked Thomas, 30, unconscious for about five seconds. When he came to, with minor lacerations on his left shoulder and neck and a large contusion on his back, he saw a man on a nearby rooftop.
“I presumed he threw the grenade because of the way he was leaning over the side of the building to see the damage he had done,” Thomas said. “I started to engage him. I don’t know if I wounded him or killed him. He disappeared.”
Sgt. Lyle Buehler, the driver, was hit on the right side of his head by a piece of shrapnel. He also had shrapnel in his back and leg. Sgt. Ian Newland, who was sitting behind Buehler, suffered some tendon damage when shrapnel pierced his left forearm. He also had shrapnel wounds on all his limbs.
Pfc. Sean Lawson, the platoon medic, who was sitting behind Thomas, suffered a perforated left ear drum and a mild concussion. Amazingly, Lawson didn’t suffer any shrapnel injuries, and was able to provide medical aid to Buehler and Newland, Thomas said.
In the meantime, the other soldiers in the convoy gathered around the damaged Humvee to provide security.
Sgt. Patrick Cramer, one of the dismount team leaders, got into Thomas’ vehicle and drove it back to the base, the vehicle’s doors swinging open.
Thomas said he didn’t know that McGinnis was dead.
“I saw him still sitting there,” Thomas said. “I thought he was unconscious. I wasn’t thinking that the blast had killed him. He had his back to me so I couldn’t see anything.”
As Cramer drove, Thomas tried to talk to McGinnis from the front seat.
“I couldn’t turn around, so I patted him on his back vest plate,” Thomas said. “I was screaming at him, ‘McGinnis, wake up! Wake up! Are you OK?’ The medic said, ‘Sergeant T, he didn’t make it.’ ”
It was only when the soldiers arrived at FOB Apache that Baka learned the blast had killed McGinnis.
Newland was the only soldier in the Humvee who needed to be medically evacuated. He was taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Newland has since been discharged from the hospital, Baka said. He walks with a cane and his left arm is in a sling, but during a memorial service in Germany for McGinnis, Newland walked up to the podium without his cane and solemnly saluted a memorial to his friend.
The soldiers are very shaken up by the incident, Baka said.
“But they’re all alive because of Specialist McGinnis,” he said.
Thomas, who went back on patrol three days after the incident, said he still can’t believe McGinnis is gone.
“It’s tough. You deal with it the best you can,” he said. “Your guys need you, your soldiers need you, and you just kind of bounce back from it, but it’s something you’ll never forget no matter how old you get. He’s a hero to me, and I will never forget him, ever. He honestly saved my life. I think some people use ‘saved my life’ out of context, but he really saved four people’s lives.”
A memorial service for McGinnis was planned for Dec. 17 in Knox, which is about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. His family plans to have his remains interred at Arlington National Cemetery this spring, Baka said.
McGinnis’ father, Tom, declined to be interviewed by Army Times. In an e-mail to a reporter, Tom McGinnis wrote, “There is little to tell you about my son Ross, other than that he was not a star, he was not an overachiever or an academic wonder. He was a regular boy with his faults and his own unique qualities that caused everybody that really knew him to love him.”
Officials at Keystone High School, which McGinnis’ two older sisters also attended, are planning a memorial for him, Walters said.
His graduating class is putting together a scrapbook of his school years for his family, and some of his friends are creating a plaque that will be presented to the school. Walters said officials also are discussing a memorial that will be placed at the school.
Her former student’s death is the “hardest thing I’ve had to deal with,” she said. “Nobody prepares you for this type of thing.”
McGinnis’ fellow soldiers had a memorial service for him Dec. 11 in Baghdad.
“Memorial services are extremely tough for all of us, but I think they’re necessary for us to do for the closure,” Baka said. “I think many of the soldiers here are honoring McGinnis by doing their job and doing the best they can. It’s tough to swallow, but they’re taking it very well.”
The soldiers remembered their friend as a funny guy with a sharp sense of humor, a photography buff and a caring and attentive listener.
“It could be the worst day on earth, and this guy would always find a bright side to whatever we had to do,” Thomas said. “To me, that’s what made him so special.”
Baka said he has been in contact with Tom McGinnis.
“He’s very proud of him. One thing he told me, he said he wished his son wasn’t so brave,” Baka said. “I told him I wish the same thing, but at the same time ... I think it makes it easier for the other soldiers, knowing he did it willingly and he did it to save the lives of other soldiers.”
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Medal of Honor nominee McGinnis laid to rest
By Michelle Tan
Spc. Ross McGinnis was laid to rest March 23 at Arlington National Cemetery in a traditional military ceremony, one befitting a young man who gave his life to save those of his fellow soldiers.
McGinnis, 19, of 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, was killed Dec. 4 in Adhamiyah, Iraq, when he used his body to smother a grenade thrown into his Humvee.
His actions are credited with saving the lives of the four other soldiers in the vehicle and he has been nominated for the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. He already has been awarded the Silver Star for his actions.
The graveside services took place at 11 a.m. under a cloudless, early spring sky.
His parents, Tom and Romayne, were among two busloads of mourners who traveled all night from the fallen soldier’s hometown of Knox, Pa.
They were accompanied on the journey by others traveling in cars and at least 60 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that escorted the caravan.
As the buses, cars and motorcycles streamed into the cemetery, members of the Army Honor Guard snapped to attention.
At the gravesite, an urn containing McGinnis’ ashes was placed on a green podium as the soldier’s parents and others took their seats for the 20-minute service.
McGinnis’ heroism led to “his name being written in history,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Bearfield.
Three of the soldiers who were in the Humvee with McGinnis attended the service.
One traveled from Germany; the other two were allowed to leave Iraq to be there. They were to return to the war zone shortly after paying their final respects.
Post sets unveiling for memorial to McGinnis
The Associated Press
FORT KNOX, Ky. — Fort Knox is dedicating a memorial to a 19-year-old soldier who died in Iraq in 2006 and posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
The memorial display in honor of Spc. Ross A. McGinnis will be unveiled and dedicated at the central Kentucky post at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 7.
McGinnis, of Knox, Pa., belonged to Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
According to military accounts from his fellow soldiers, McGinnis was credited with warning them of a grenade that was thrown inside their truck then covering the grenade to protect the soldiers from the blast. McGinnis was killed instantly.