Redemption, Courage, Sacrifice
Somewhere near here, Valhalla or Fiddler’s Green, a band of brothers is welcoming a new friend. Standing at attention are men like Alvin York, Audie Murphy and Douglas MacArthur. A new hero has come home.
It wasn’t a very long road for Ross McGinnis. He was just 19 when he became a legend. It had not been a long road but it had some twists and turns.
Ross McGinnis was not always hero material. He grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, the only boy in a family with two gifted girls. His father suggests Bart Simpson as a good image of this underachiever.
At fourteen he made several mistakes, bought some marijuana and talked about it at school. When school administrators looked further, they found a couple of knives in his locker.
Suspension and court followed.
Given time to think, Ross thought. At some point he talked with an Army recruiter. In his junior year he enlisted in the United States Army under the delayed enlistment program. Those who knew him saw the change. Despite academic struggles, he graduated from high school and joined the Army.
After basic and advanced infantry training, Ross came home on leave. He was a changed man. He was a soldier.
In Germany, training for deployment to Iraq, Ross made his mark with his fellow soldiers. He was the platoon funny man, able to make men laugh even after a long day. He was also recognized as a born leader, and excelled at the skills a combat soldier needs.
His unit was assigned to northeastern Baghdad, and violence was a daily happening. In late November his unit fought off a five hour attack in which dozens of the enemy were killed. McGinnis’s photo was on the cover of the Middle East edition of Stars & Stripes for November 30 as they covered that battle.
December 4, 2006 was like most days. The unit geared up for a patrol and the delivery of a generator. Six vehicles pulled out of Combat Outpost Apache. McGinnis was the .50 cal gunner on the rear vehicle, a position he was expert at.
The vehicles ahead heard an explosion and when they looked, found McGinnis’s vehicle severely damaged with all four of its doors blown off. Medics found four wounded soldiers and McGinnis. McGinnis was dead.
It all happened in a matter of seconds.
McGinnis saw an insurgent throw a grenade from a nearby rooftop. He tried to deflect it but it dropped through the hatch behind him. Training told him to holler “Grenade” and then jump clear. That is not what this hero did.
He saw the grenade lodged in some equipment below him. The doors were locked and the four soldiers in the truck had no chance to escape. McGinnis dropped down into the Humvee and pressed his back against the radio where the grenade had come to rest, covering the blast with his body.
Ross McGinnis, a little over six feet tall and a lanky 130 some pounds, took the force of the explosion. One of the other soldiers was seriously wounded, and the other three received less serious injuries. All of them lived because of Ross McGinnis.
On June 2, 2008 the President of the United States will present the Medal of Honor to the family of Ross McGinnis. He will speak about courage and sacrifice. His fellow heroes in Valhalla and Fiddler’s Green know all about that.
It may be the the President of the United States will also talk about redemption. Ross McGinnis was once a troubled youth on a clear path to nowhere. Then, he chose to become a soldier in the United States Army. He chose to become a warrior.
This young man, this ordinary young man, found a place that gave him a path, people who became comrades and friends, and he found a time that for all eternity became his time.
God bless you, Ross McGinnis.