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updated: 8/25/2017 4:04 PM

Straight from the Source: Why a Pennsylvania family donated son's Medal of Honor to Wheaton museum

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  • Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis

    Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis
    Courtesy of the McGinnis family

  • Ross A. McGinnis, center, at his high school graduation with his parents Romayne and Thomas McGinnis.

    Ross A. McGinnis, center, at his high school graduation with his parents Romayne and Thomas McGinnis.
    Courtesy of the McGinnis family

  • Ross A. McGinnis, center, with his sisters, Katie Orbison and Becky Gorman, and his parents, Tom and Romayne McGinnis.

    Ross A. McGinnis, center, with his sisters, Katie Orbison and Becky Gorman, and his parents, Tom and Romayne McGinnis.
    Courtesy of the McGinnis family

  • The Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Pfc. Ross McGinnis will be on display starting Saturday at the First Division Museum in Cantigny Park.

      The Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Pfc. Ross McGinnis will be on display starting Saturday at the First Division Museum in Cantigny Park.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
By Thomas McGinnis
Special to the Daily Herald
Editor's note: Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis was a machine-gunner in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, when an insurgent threw a fragmentation grenade that fell through the gunner’s hatch and into his Humvee.

McGinnis immediately warned others inside the vehicle, and then, rather than leaping from the gunner’s hatch to safety, the 19-year-old from Knox, Pennsylvania, covered the live grenade, pinning it between his back and the vehicle’s radio mount, absorbing most of the explosion. At the cost of his own life, he saved four other crew members from serious injury or death.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor on June 5, 2008.

McGinnis is the 1st Division’s only Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam era, so his story seemed a fitting way to honor today’s soldiers. Paul Herbert, executive director of the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, asked McGinnis’ parents if they’d consider donating the medal, the nation’s highest military honor, so it could be on display when the museum reopens Saturday after extensive renovations. When the family said yes, Herbert traveled to Pennsylvania to pick it up personally.

“I hope they take great satisfaction that lots of people are going to know who Ross McGinnis was,” he said. “I hope they think that we’ve done Ross justice.”

Today, Ross’ father, Thomas McGinnis, explains why the family donated Ross’ Medal of Honor.

When Ross covered a grenade with his body in Adhamiyah, Iraq, on Dec. 4, 2006, his actions made newspapers across the country. Some even had him in the headlines.

In the days and weeks following his death, his mother Romayne and I received hundreds of cards, letters and gifts from people we had never met. I got the feeling everybody knew who Ross was and what he had done.

But after a few years, his prominence waned. I've met many local people who never heard of Ross or his heroic last act, even though his photo is on the wall of our Walmart.

It's not that I want to keep getting cards, letters and gifts for the rest of my life, but I would like people to be aware of the decisions our young military people face every day that our country has an ongoing war or military conflict. And they need to know our young people are up to the challenge.

One of the reasons my wife Romayne and I considered donating our son's Medal of Honor to a museum years ago was so that more people could see the medal and reflect on the human cost of defending freedom for ourselves and for those around the world. The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton receives about 175,000 visitors each year (and the park itself about 300,000). That's quite a few more visitors than Romayne and I will have in our lifetimes.

But there is also a deeper reason that Ross' Medal of Honor should be displayed in a museum.

If we were to keep it at home and admire it ourselves, it would be a medal for Ross and Ross alone. But I think Ross would tell you, as most similarly awarded heroes have said, that his actions only reflect the honor and courage of all his military buddies.

The biggest difference is that his actions were seen, recorded and then judged by those present that a Medal of Honor was appropriate. And then began the chain of paperwork required to make it happen.

Many times, there is too much activity, confusion or "fog of war" to precisely put the honor on one person. Or sometimes the witnesses to heroic acts are all killed, and nobody is left to tell the story. Or perhaps the paperwork is lost.

The Medal of Honor reminds us of the untold stories of heroism and the many soldiers who served as courageously or died as nobly but who never received recognition.

Of course, the most obvious reason we donated Ross' Medal of Honor to the First Division Museum at Cantigny is that Paul Herbert, the museum's executive director, asked us for it. If he hadn't done that, we might have kept on thinking about donating it for years to come.

Matthew 7:7 says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."

And so it was.

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