On Monday President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Private First Class Ross Andrew McGinnis. The ceremony was held in the East Room of the White House.
Before he entered our country's history, Ross McGinnis came of age in the town of Knox, Pennsylvania. Back home they remember a slender boy with a big heart and a carefree spirit. He was a regular guy. He loved playing basketball. He loved working on cars. He wasn't too wild about schoolwork. (Laughter.) He had a lot of friends and a great sense of humor. In high school and in the Army, Ross became known for his ability to do impersonations. A buddy from boot camp said that Ross was the only man there who could make the drill sergeant laugh.(Laughter.)
Most of all, those who knew Ross McGinnis recall him as a dependable friend and a really good guy. If Ross was your buddy and you needed help or you got in trouble, he'd stick with you and be the one you could count on. One of his friends told a reporter that Ross was the type "who would do anything for anybody."
That element of his character was to make all the difference when Ross McGinnis became a soldier in the Army. One afternoon 18 months ago, Private McGinnis was part of a humvee patrol in a neighborhood of Baghdad. From his position in the gun turret, he noticed a grenade thrown directly at the vehicle. In an instant, the grenade dropped through the gunner's hatch. He shouted a warning to the four men inside. Confined in that tiny space, the soldiers had no chance of escaping the explosion. Private McGinnis could have easily jumped from the humvee and saved himself. Instead he dropped inside, put himself against the grenade, and absorbed the blast with his own body.
By that split-second decision, Private McGinnis lost his own life, and he saved his comrades. One of them was Platoon Sergeant Cedric Thomas, who said this: "He had time to jump out of the truck. He chose not to. He's a hero. He was just an awesome guy." For his actions, Private McGinnis received the Silver Star, a posthumous promotion in rank, anda swift nomination for the Medal of Honor. But it wasn't acclaim or credit that motivated him. Ross's dad has said, "I know medals never crossed his mind. He was always about friendships and relationships. He just took that to the ultimate this time."
When Ross McGinnis was in kindergarten, the teacher asked him to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up. He drew a soldier. Today our nation recognizing -- recognizes him as a soldier, and more than that -- because he did far more than his duty. In the words of one of our commanding generals, "Four men are alive because this soldier embodied our Army values and gave his life."