For saving the lives of his friends and giving up his own in the process, McGinnis earned the Silver Star, posthumously. He was also the fourth soldier in the course of the Iraq war to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was just 19 years old.
McGinnis was the youngest Soldier in Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. Born on June 14, 1987, he joined the Army through the Delayed Entry Program on his 17th birthday.
A dedicated soldier, he was also very popular with those that he worked alongside.
Pfc. Brennan Beck, a 1-26 infantryman from Lodi, Calif., remembers him fondly:
“He would go into a room and when he left, everyone was laughing,” Beck said. “He did impersonations of others in the company. He was quick-witted, just hilarious. He loved making people laugh. He was a comedian through and through.”
While being very personable and good fun to be around, McGinnis took his job seriously.
“He was not a garrison Soldier. He hated it back in garrison,” Beck said. “He loved it here in Iraq. He loved being a gunner. It was a thrill, he loved everything about it. He was one our best Soldiers. He did a great job.”
His bravery subsequently saved the lives of four other soldiers that were riding with him that day. The team was on a mission in the Adhamiyah section of Baghdad.
McGinnis was manning the gunner’s hatch when an insurgent tossed a grenade from above. It flew past McGinnis and down through the hatch before lodging near the radio mount.
His platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas of Longview, Texas, describes what happened next:
“Pfc. McGinnis yelled ‘Grenade…It’s in the truck,’” Thomas said. “I looked out of the corner of my eye as I was crouching down and I saw him pin it down.”
Although McGinnis could have leapt to safety from his position at the gunners hatch, his first instinct was to help his fellow soldiers.
“He had time to jump out of the truck,” Thomas said. “He chose not to.”
Instead he jumped on top of the grenade so that he would absorb the bulk of the blast. The resulting explosion killed him instantly.
“He gave his life to save his crew and his platoon sergeant,” Thomas said. “He’s a hero. He’s a professional. He was just an awesome guy.”
Anyone that ever worked alongside McGinnis had similar views.
Beck reminisced on the time he and McGinnis would talk through the night, discussing where they wanted their lives to go. For McGinnis it was always about his friends.
“When I had my appendix removed, he was the only one who visited me in the hospital,” Beck said. “That meant a lot.”
Another 1-26 infantryman, Pfc.Michael Blair of Klamath Falls, Ore., recalled that McGinnis helped him when he first arrived.
“When I first came to the unit…he was there and took me in and showed me around,” Blair said. “He was real easy to talk to. You could tell him anything. He was a funny guy. He was always making somebody laugh.”
According to Blair, McGinnis’ final act of bravery was not a surprise. “He was that kind of person,” he said. “He would rather take it himself than have his buddies go down.”
The Medal of Honor
On June 2, 2008 a ceremony was held in the east room of the White House where President George W. Bush presented the medal to the McGinnis family.
In addition to his family and the President, many other notable people attended the ceremony. Several members of Congress also attended as did members of McGinnis’ unit from Iraq, including the other soldiers from the vehicle he sacrificed his life to save.