On the afternoon of December 4, 2006, Private First Class Ross McGinnis, a graduate of Knox (Pa.) Little League and 2011 Little League® Hall of Excellence enshrinee, sacrificed his own life to save the lives of four fellow soldiers while in combat in Iraq. His heroic act earned him the Medal of Honor in 2008, making him the first known Little League graduate to earn the award. On the 10-year anniversary of Pfc. McGinnis’ death, Little League looks back on the impact that Pfc. McGinnis had on those around him, all the way from his roots in Little League to his final moments in Iraq.
According to Pfc. McGinnis’ mother, Romayne, Little League is where her son first learned the values of teamwork, self-worth, and commitment to achieving common goals, values that would go on to serve him greatly in the United States Army.
“He had fun in Little League and got along with all of his coaches,” said Mrs. McGinnis. “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 all their children, including daughters, Katie and Becky, in Knox Little League when they were old enough to play Tee Ball. The McGinnis family looked to the local Little League program as a vehicle to socialize and integrate their children into the community. Pfc. McGinnis played until he was 12, and his sisters continued in softball through Senior League.
“We attended the kids’ Little League games,” said Mrs. McGinnis. “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), Pfc. McGinnis 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. Pfc. McGinnis 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,” said Mrs. McGinnis, 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.”
During his infantry training, Pfc. McGinnis qualified as an “Expert” shooting left-handed, and as a “Sharpshooter,” one step below Expert, shooting right-handed.
Following a week of training in Kuwait, Pfc. McGinnis, 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’,” said Mrs. McGinnis. “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 their 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 fellow soldiers.
Pfc. McGinnis was posthumously promoted to Specialist, and was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Silver Star. His family was presented with his Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush, a fellow Little League Hall of Excellence enshrinee, 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.
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.
Ross now rests, along with thousands of his nation’s heroes, in Section 60, Site 8544, at Arlington National Cemetery.
A display in honor of Pfc. Ross McGinnis is currently on display in the Little League Hall of Excellence section of the World of Little League®: Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum and Official Store.
NOTE: Although it is believed through research by the World of Little League®: 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 Lance Van Auken, Little League Vice President and Senior Director of the World of Little League: Peter J. McGovern Museum & Official Store.