“You know, I never really pictured what a Medal of Honor winner is supposed to look like. I would think of someone like a John Wayne character from the movies. Where the guy is macho and tough, and fears nothing. But that is not anywhere close to what my son Ross was like.”
—Tom McGinnis, father of Specialist Ross Andrew McGinnis
Specialist Ross McGinnis grew up in Knox, Pa., (population about 1,100), located about 100 miles north of Pittsburgh. He was at best an average student, enjoyed sports, worked at McDonalds, and had a minor brush with the law. His future looked to be as unremarkable and anonymous as his past. Even his decision to enlist in the Army appeared to be just another ordinary decision typical of small-town working class kids.
At some point in his fourteen weeks of training at Fort Benning in 2005, a new and different Ross McGinnis emerged. When he returned home on leave, it was as if a newly minted man had replaced the sometimes erratic boy who had left Knox. The change was so remarkable that when he visited his alma mater and delivered an address to the students about the Army and his experiences, those kids who knew the pre-Army Ross were astonished at the change in him. Everyone agreed, Ross had grown up and found himself.
In October 2005, he was deployed to Schweinfurt, Germany, a member of C Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2nd BCT), 1st Infantry Division. There, in addition to displaying leadership traits that impressed his superiors, he met a beautiful blonde German girl and fell in love.
The following year, in August 2006, Private First Class Ross McGinnis and the rest of the 2nd BCT were deployed to Adhamiyah, a northeast suburb of Baghdad. C Company was stationed in Forward Operating Base Apache. McGinnis’s position was typically in the gun mount of a Humvee, alertly manning the M2 .50-caliber machine gun as the vehicle, part of a motorized convoy, patrolled the dangerous suburban streets. By December, Ross was a combat veteran respected and trusted by his peers and had been nominated for the Bronze Star.
On the morning of Dec. 4, 2006, he got some good news. His company commander, Maj. Michael Baka, had put him in for a promotion to specialist. Later that day, Ross climbed into the gun mount of his Humvee, part of a six-Humvee convoy. Their mission was to scout the immediate area to find a suitable location for a 250-kilowatt generator that would supply electricity to homes in the neighborhood. Ross’s Humvee was the “Tail-End Charlie”, and his job was to face backward, guarding the rear of the convoy against any attack.
About a half mile from FOB Apache the convoy got caught in a traffic jam and halted. It was an ambush. Suddenly, a rooftop insurgent tossed a hand grenade toward the open hatch of McGinnis’s gun mount. Ross tried to bat the grenade away, but missed. The grenade fell into the vehicle and lodged itself in the Humvee’s radio mount. Ross yelled a warning to his friends below, “Grenade!”
Baka, in the convoy’s fourth vehicle, saw McGinnis stand up in his gun mount, as if to leap away and save himself. Then Baka saw McGinnis stop and, instead, drop down into the Humvee.
Ross was the only one who could see the grenade. The Humvee’s doors were combat locked and hard to open, and because the four men inside didn’t know where the grenade was, they would almost certainly be killed by the blast and shrapnel. Ross dropped into the confined compartment and pressed his back against the radio mount where the grenade was lodged as the others turned away and covered their faces.
The explosion filled the Humvee’s cabin with black smoke and ripped one of the vehicle’s doors off its hinges. McGinnis was killed instantly. But his body absorbed most of the blast. Though the other four men were wounded, one severely, they all survived.
On June 2, 2007, at a White House ceremony, President George W. Bush presented Spec. Ross McGinnis’s posthumous Medal of Honor to his parents, stating: “No one outside this man’s family can know the true weight of their loss. But in words spoken long ago, we are told how to measure the kind of devotion that Ross McGinnis showed on his last day: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’”