- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Tom and Romayne McGinnis listened to the superlatives about their son and walked up to the glass display, looking at his full-sized likeness encased inside, cloaked in uniform.
Hailed as a hero by the U.S. Army and President Barack Obama, Ross A. McGinnis is a model of heroism during the modern war on terror. The couple said it is hard to describe their feelings about their son’s legacy but said the likeness will stand as a three-dimensional tribute to his memory.
“It’s just amazing how the Army holds Ross in such esteem for one simple act,” Tom McGinnis said. “As they keep telling us, he will never be forgotten.”
The 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, remembered McGinnis Friday afternoon for his sacrifice in the line of duty, saving four of his fellow soldiers through his death. His likeness was unveiled in the Hall of Heroes, located in the lobby of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division headquarters at Fort Knox. The brigade’s company operations facility also memorializes McGinnis.
The 1-26 is one of six battalions under the command of the 3/1.
McGinnis, a native of Knox, Pa., joined the Army on his 17th birthday and, in 2006, was serving as an M2 .50-caliber machine gunner with the 1-26 in Adhamiyah, a neighborhood and district in Baghdad.
McGinnis was working combat control operations on Dec. 4, 2006, in an effort to reduce sectarian violence when an insurgent tossed an active grenade from a nearby rooftop into his vehicle.
Lt. Col. William G. Jacobs II, commander of the 1-26, said machine gunners are trained to yell “grenade” to alert passengers. Once a machine gunner gives those inside a fair amount of time to react, he is taught to exit the vehicle and save himself.
“If you stay in that vehicle, your chances of surviving are slim,” Jacobs said.
According to accounts of the incident, McGinnis attempted to deflect the grenade. It entered the vehicle behind him, landing on the radio mount. McGinnis saw the grenade’s position and warned the others but realized they were unaware of its location and were combat-locked in the Humvee, which meant they did not have time to escape. Making a quick decision, McGinnis laid his back on the grenade so his body would absorb the brunt of the blast. It detonated, killing him instantly.
The 19-year-old was promoted from private 1st class to specialist after his death and awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The soldiers inside the Humvee with McGinnis sustained injuries ranging from severe to minor shrapnel blasts and concussions, but all survived.
Tom McGinnis said his son was a typical teenager with an affinity for girls, cars and rap music who had problems with authority before he joined the Army. McGinnis’ parents said he showed more enthusiasm for partying and having fun than school.
“He was a rascal,” he said.
After he went into the service, McGinnis underwent a transformation and later struggled with the sloppiness exhibited by civilians in their daily lives, his father said.
Tom McGinnis said his son had an interest in the military dating back to kindergarten but it cooled as he got older. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, though, the desire to serve his country was renewed.
Tom McGinnis said he was not shocked by his son’s bravery and selflessness because he never was lacking for guts.
“It didn’t surprise me,” he said. “He had nerve. He wasn’t a coward.”
An officer came to the McGinnis home to inform them their son had been killed, but the couple knew before he uttered a word. McGinnis told them he would call if he was injured or someone would call for him if his injuries were too severe for him to reach out personally. If someone came to the home, he told them, he was already gone.
“It was like falling off a cliff,” Tom McGinnis said. “If I only had something to grab — but I had nothing to grab.”
The present generation always looks on the future generation with trepidation, Jacobs said, afraid they will fail to do what must be done.
“They wonder if they can trust the next generation to do the hard right rather than the easy wrong,” Jacobs said.
Further, he said, grizzled, older veterans often look at younger soldiers in a harsh light. Raised in an era with John Wayne movies, phones with cords and color television as a luxury for rich people, they find themselves questioning what is wrong with kids today and why they don’t make men like they used to.
But, Jacobs said, McGinnis’ courage proves those notions invalid.
“We were wrong,” he said.
The memorials for McGinnis, he said, will serve as a daily reminder of how warriors should live their lives.
“He’s an example of what we all strive to be,” he said.
When asked how their son would react to the ceremony, the couple laughed.
“He would have thought it was a lot of nonsense,” Tom McGinnis said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenews enterprise.com.