Truly, One in a Million
Little League Graduate Earns Medal of Honor
When considering the implications of receiving the U.S. Military’s highest award for valor, the statistics are staggering.
- *Number of people who have served in the U.S. Military since the American Revolution: 41 million
- *Living people who have served in the U.S. Military: 23 million
- *Number of service members who have received the Medal of Honor in the last 150 years: 3,450
- *Since 1944, when the first Little League graduates were old enough to join the U.S. Military, the number of Little League graduates known to have received the Medal of Honor: One.
That one person, among millions, is Ross McGinnis, a graduate of Knox (Pa.) Little League.
Ross played in Knox Little League for six years, and his mother, Romayne, credits her son’s time in Little League with teaching him the values of teamwork, self-worth, and commitment to achieving common goals.
“He had fun in Little League and got along with all of his coaches,” Mrs. McGinnis said. “We pushed Little League and the Boy Scouts to keep him involved. Ross was very supportive of his friends and was a team player. I think getting him into Knox Little League helped shape his thoughts about the military.”
Mrs. McGinnis and her husband, Tom, enrolled Ross and his older sisters, Katie and Becky, in Knox Little League when they were old enough to play Tee Ball. The McGinnis’s looked to the local Little League program as a vehicle to socialize and integrate their children into the community. Ross played until he was 12, and his sisters continued in softball through Senior League.
On the Little League field, Ross played second base and in the outfield. His mom recalls he was a good hitter.
“We attended the kids’ Little League games,” Mrs. McGinnis said. “Knox Little League was a great group activity for our family. Tom and I wanted to get our kids out and involved with other children. For Ross, he liked being around his friends.”
On his 17th birthday (June 14, 2004), Ross, then a Junior at Keystone High School, enlisted in the Army through the Delayed Entry Program. On June 8, 2005, two weeks after his high school graduation, he left Pennsylvania for eight weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.
After completing basic training, he had six weeks of Advanced Infantry Training, graduating in September 2005. Ross was then assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany. He was deployed to Iraq in July 2006, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Ross decided at a very young age that he wanted to join the service,” Mrs. McGinnis said, remembering her son drawing a soldier in kindergarten when he was asked to depict what he wanted to be when he grew up. “He was bright, but restless and wasn't a stellar student … He was hands on.
“Around the 10th grade he started to show an interest in the military,” Mrs. McGinnis said. “At first, Ross wanted to go into the Air Force, but the recruiters talked him into the Army because of the option to do many different things.”
During his infantry training, Ross qualified as an “Expert” shooting left-handed, and as a “Sharpshooter,” one step below Expert, shooting right-handed.
“We knew Ross wasn’t college material and felt the service would be good for him, with rules to follow, and use of the GI Bill if he chose to go back to school,” Mrs. McGinnis said. “After he signed up he was gung-ho.”
Following a week of training in Kuwait, Ross, serving as a .50 caliber machine gunner in 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team 1st Infantry Division, arrived in Iraq, on Aug. 4, 2006. Combat Outpost Apache in Adhamiyah, a northeast section of Baghdad steeped in sectarian violence, was their home. The area had lacked a U.S. presence for eight months.
“Two weeks after his arrival in Iraq, Ross called home to say, ‘I am here and safe.’” Mrs. McGinnis said. “He didn’t write a lot of letters. Mostly he e-mailed Tom, but it was sporadic.”
According to the official reports, on the afternoon of Dec. 4, 2006, Pfc. McGinnis and his platoon were on mounted patrol in Adhamiyah, Iraq, to restrict enemy movement and quell sectarian violence. During the course of the patrol, an unidentified insurgent positioned on a rooftop nearby threw a fragmentation grenade into Ross’ vehicle, a Humvee.
Without hesitation or regard for his own life, Pfc. McGinnis threw his back over the grenade, pinning it between his body and the Humvee’s radio mount. He shouted “grenade” to others in the vehicle, then absorbed all lethal fragments and the concussive effects of the blast with his own body – giving his life to save his four comrades.
Ross was posthumously promoted to Specialist, and was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Silver Star. His family was presented with Ross’ Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush in a ceremony at the White House on June 2, 2008.
Also attending the ceremony were the four soldiers whose lives were saved by Pfc. McGinnis: Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, Sgt. Lyle Buehler, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, and Spec. Sean Lawson.
Ross is one of only four U.S. service members serving in Iraq to have received the Medal of Honor.
In addition to those honors, a new National Infantry Museum in Fort Benning, Ga., was dedicated to Ross, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post 2145 in Clarion, Pa., near Knox, was renamed in Ross’s honor, the local Boy Scout Hall erected a monument in his honor, and Knox residents created a memorial at Keystone High School.
A display of some of the items Ross used while playing Little League is being planned in the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum.
Ross now rests, along with thousands of his nation’s heroes, in Section 60, Site 8544, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Editor’s note: Although it is believed through research by the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum staff that Ross McGinnis is the first Little League graduate to receive the Medal of Honor, it is possible that there may be others (among the few hundred who have received the Medal of Honor since 1944) who also played in a chartered Little League. Anyone with such information should contact the Director of the Little League Museum, Janice Ogurcak, at JOgurcak@LittleLeague.org.