Army Private Gave His Life to Save Fellow Squad Members

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor. 

Army Pfc. Ross McGinnis. Army photo

Army Private 1st Class Ross McGinnis had a desire to join the service most of his life, having drawn a picture of a soldier during kindergarten when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He took advantage of that as soon as he could.

McGinnis, who grew up in the small northwestern Pennsylvania town of Knox, joined the Army through its delayed entry program on Jun 14, 2004 – his 17th birthday.

After basic training, McGinnis was stationed at Schweinfurt, Germany. In August 2006, his unit was deployed to Iraq.

On Dec. 4, 2006, McGinnis was serving as a machine gunner in 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in the northeastern part of Baghdad. His platoon was working to control sectarian violence in the area, which was rampant at the time.

During that afternoon, while McGinnis was in position at the back of his vehicle, an insurgent threw a grenade from a roof, and it fell into McGinnis’ Humvee. The private first class reacted quickly, yelling “Grenade!” to warn his four fellow soldiers stuck in the vehicle with him.

Instead of saving his own life by escaping through the gunnery hatch, as he was trained to do, McGinnis – the youngest in his platoon at 19 – chose to give his own life to protect his crew, diving onto the live grenade to shield them from the blast. He died immediately.

From left: Retired Army Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, Sgt. Lyle Buehler, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas and Spc. Sean Lawson are all alive today because of Spc. Ross McGinnis’s selfless sacrifice. DoD photo by Carrie McLeroy

The others in the vehicle with him – Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, the platoon sergeant and truck commander; Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, the squad leader; Sgt. Lyle Buehler, the driver; and medic Spc. Sean Lawson all survived thanks to his bravery and selflessness.

Shortly after his death, McGinnis’ parents released a statement about him that said in part, “The lives of four men who were his Army brothers outweighed the value of his one life. … His straightforward answer to a simple but difficult choice should stand as a shining example for the rest of us. We all face simple choices, but how often do we choose to make a sacrifice to get the right answer? The right choice sometimes requires honor.”

President George W. Bush leads the applause to honor Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis after presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously to his parents, Tom and Romayne McGinnis, June 2, 2008, at the White House. Photo Credit: Chris Greenberg, White House

On June 2, 2008, President George W. Bush presented McGinnis’ parents with the Medal of Honor in his name. He was posthumously promoted to specialist and also received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

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