By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 3, 2008 - Medal of Honor recipient Army Spc. Ross A. McGinnis joined a select group of military heroes during a Pentagon ceremony here today. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England hosted the event that added McGinnis' name to the roster of other Army Medal of Honor recipients. Army Secretary Pete Geren and Gen. Richard R. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, also attended the event at the library and conference center.
Medal of Honor recipients "are our nation's most-revered heroes," England said. "And every time a name is added, that individual's story enriches the significance of this award."
McGinnis was an exceptional, selfless soldier who gave his life so that his comrades could live, England said.
Then-Pfc. McGinnis died at age 19 in northeastern Baghdad on Dec. 4, 2006, while protecting his comrades from an enemy grenade that was thrown into his Humvee. McGinnis, who'd been riding topside in the vehicle's gunner hatch, dropped down and used his body to absorb the effects of the exploding grenade, thus saving four fellow soldiers: Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, Sgt. Lyle Buehler, and Spc. Sean Lawson.
"From the Minutemen at Bunker Hill to our warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, our history is filled with stories of individuals sacrificing their own lives to secure for us the profound gift of peace and freedom," England observed.
U.S. and allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in northern France during World War Two's D-Day on June 6, 1944, England recalled. The tens of thousands of servicemembers who participated in the successful amphibious landings helped to ensure the collapse of Nazi Germany and the return of freedom to Europe, he said.
"Their courage decisively changed the course of history," England said, adding that four U.S. troops earned the Medal of Honor for their actions on the Normandy beaches.
"Ross was securing those very freedoms for Americans and the people of Iraq when he made the ultimate sacrifice," England said.
Ross McGinnis "had decided that the lives of his friends were more important than his own," Geren observed. "Our duty to Ross and to the memory of Ross and our duty to his family is for all of us to live lives worthy of his sacrifice."
"His memory will live in this Army forever," Geren vowed.
McGinnis and his comrades braved insurgents' bombs and sniper fire almost every day in Baghdad, Cody said, "because they knew we must defeat al-Qaida in Iraq, to keep not only our country safe, but to provide the Iraqis a safe and secure environment so they could rebuild their country."
When McGinnis acted to protect his fellow soldiers from the grenade, he knew full well he would not survive the blast, Cody said.
"There is no greater act of personal courage, loyalty or selfless service than this," he said.
McGinnis' father and mother, Tom and Romayne McGinnis, attended the Pentagon event. Tom McGinnis spoke a few words.
"Ross is the reason that we're here. And, the reason that Ross is not here is because his Army buddies were more important than life itself," Tom said. "We appreciate all the memorials, the gifts (and) the special attention that we've been given since Ross died."
Tom said people's kind words have greatly helped him and his wife cope with the loss of their son. Yet, he added, it's important to remember U.S. servicemembers that are still serving at home and abroad.
"Our troops ... also need our support," McGinnis' father emphasized. "They put their lives on the line for us -- sometimes for four years, sometimes for two years, sometimes for 20 years.
"But, when they get home they also need our support."
President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to McGinnis' parents yesterday at a White House ceremony.
"The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military distinction; it is given for valor beyond anything that duty could require or a superior could command," Bush said, before presenting the medal to McGinnis' parents during the East Room ceremony.
"America will never forget those who came forward to bear the battle," Bush vowed. "America will always honor the name of this brave soldier who gave all for his country."
McGinnis enlisted in the Army at age 17 on June 14, 2004. At the time of his death, McGinnis was a private first class assigned to 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in Schweinfurt, Germany. McGinnis was promoted to specialist posthumously. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
McGinnis' family received their son's Silver Star and Purple Heart medals in December 2006 at a memorial service in their hometown of Knox, Pa., about 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.