The 19-year-old amateur mechanic from Knox, Pa., who enjoyed poker and loud music, likely saved the lives of four Soldiers riding with him on a mission in 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.
His platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas of Longview, Texas, recalled 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.”
McGinnis did so even though he could have escaped.
“He had time to jump out of the truck,” Thomas said. “He chose not to.”
Thomas remembered McGinnis talking about how he would respond in such a situation. McGinnis said then he didn’t know how he would act, but when the time came, he delivered.
“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.”
Three of the Soldiers with McGinnis who were wounded that day have returned to duty, while a fourth is recovering in Germany.
For saving the lives of his friends and giving up his own in the process, McGinnis earned the Silver Star, posthumously. His unit paid their final respects in a somber ceremony here Dec. 11.
McGinnis was born June 14, 1987, and joined the Army right after graduating high school in 2005. He had been in the Army 18 months and made his mark even before his heroic deed.
“He was a good kid,” said C Company’s senior enlisted Soldier, 1st Sgt. Kenneth J. Hendrix. “He had just gotten approved for a waiver to be promoted to specialist.”
He also appeared on the Nov. 30 cover of Stars & Stripes, manning his turret.
Besides his military accomplishments, McGinnis leaves his friends and family with memories of a fun-loving, loyal man.
Private First Class Brennan Beck, a 1-26 infantryman from Lodi, Calif., said McGinnis made others feel better.
“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 having a witty side, 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.”
Beck has memories of talking all night with McGinnis about where they wanted their lives to go, and said McGinnis always remembered 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, Private First Class Michael Blair of Klamath Falls, Ore., recalled that McGinnis helped him when he arrived at Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany.
“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.”
McGinnis’ final heroic act came as no surprise to Blair.
“He was that kind of person,” Blair said. “He would rather take it himself than have his buddies go down.”
The brigade’s senior noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. William Johnson, also had high praise for McGinnis.
“Anytime when you get a Soldier to do something like that - to give his life to protect his fellow Soldiers - that’s what heroes are made of,” Johnson said.
It also demonstrates, Johnson continued, that the ‘MySpace Generation’ has what it takes to carry on the Army’s proud traditions.
“Some think Soldiers who come in today are all about themselves,” Johnson said. “I see it differently.”
The Silver Star has already been approved for McGinnis’ actions Dec.4, and will be awarded posthumously.