Defense Media Network

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty in Iraq

Spec. Ross Andrew McGinnis, USA

“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.

Spec. Ross McGinnis (left, then a Pfc.) with Pfcs. James Beda and Edmond Leaveck at Forward Operating Base Apache, Iraq, September 2006. Courtesy photo via U.S. Army.

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.’”


DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-224">

    The courage and bravery of the American fighting man has been demonstrated throughout history. Unfortunately, most of them that receive the Medal of Honor receive our countries highest honor only after giving their lives in combat. I know that we have brave soldiers who are still in our ranks that deserve this very medal. I would like to see more of them receive our nation’s highest honor. I don’t understand why a man or woman must die performing an heroic act in order to be acknowledged for their actions of extreme bravery. Maybe in the future we’ll see more recommendations for this high honor being bestowed upon those who are still living.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-6370">

    I understand where you are coming from when you hope that more suriviving soldiers are awarded the MOH. But you have to also understand the type of conflic our forces are currently engaged. Historically during the Vietnam conflict and earlier we were faced with a larger enemy force and engaged in larger scale battles. It is much more difficult in the current operational spectrum to conduct yourself in a manner fitting for the Medal of Honor when the enemy attacks in quick short bursts. There’s no Batallion of advancing germans to single handly hold back at the trigger of a Mod Duece. There aren’t hordes of Vietnamese storming over a c-wire perimeter. Ultimately what I’m saying is that I don’t want to see the Honor bestowed and credited to the MOH because people wish those whom are still living may receive a couple of these medals. Allow the conduct of a soldier be the sole accredidation of the award not the desire of others to see more of it.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-6378">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    EJ, you make some very good points. In the current conflicts, all actions are essentially small unit actions, and in that context, the battlefield truism that each soldier, Marine, airman, or sailor is fighting for the members of his (or her) squad or platoon has never been more apt, which in many cases means the bar of sacrifice seems to be set higher for those determining who is deserving of a Medal of Honor.

    Just the same, I would hate for the Medal of Honor to become the equivalent to the U.K.’s Victoria Cross, where it has been historically rare for anyone living to receive the medal.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-6392">

    The bar I believe has been raised not intentially but raised none the less. The people submitting and approving these awards grew up with tails of great heroism from the Great War. I think that we unintentionally discredit anything we do when we compare them to the ideal we grew up worshiping / fantasizing / dreaming.

    I most definetely don’t believe it should be reserved for sacrifice of life only. I just want people to understand that a medal awarded for political / feel good reasons defeats the purpose of the medal. The soldier receiving the medal never conducts himself with a manner of intent to earning the medal. It is his brother to his left that wants a fitting award for a fitting soldier.

    Where my feeling on the subject comes from, I think, is that here Ross smothered a grenade and took the blunt of the blast. To me, if anyone else earns a MOH they better do something of equal valor. Because on a personal level if someone does something “less heroic” it short changes the medal a brother has earned.

    Either way I hope this doesn’t distract from your outstanding article about an outstanding soldier.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-6398">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    It’s interesting that over the history of the medal, the bar has been raised and lowered considerably.

    For example, President Abraham Lincoln awarded the entire 864 men of the 26th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment the Medal of Honor, supposedly as an inducement for them to continue to serve.

    The awards were later rescinded by a committee formed to study frivolous awards of the medal.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-6401">
    Dwight Jon Zimmerman
    Dwight Zimmerman

    The 26th Maine “saga” has a twist. Only about a third of the unit re-enlisted, but all–including the two-thirds that returned to Maine–received the decoration. Small wonder that the awardings stuck in the craws of those who received it at the risk of their lives in combat. The 26th Maine situation eventually inspired the creation of the Medal of Honor Legion which became the pressure group that finally caused the Army to establish a commission to review all awardings, which led to the Purge of 1917 in which 911 Medals of Honor were rescinded. At the risk of sounding like a shill, the full story of the Medal of Honor’s history is in my book, UNCOMMON VALOR.