Medal of Honor at a glance
The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest award for bravery in combat. Only the president, in the name of Congress, bestows the award.
To earn the medal, the recipient must have acted "above and beyond the call of duty" and have risked his or her life, Army regulations say.
"The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades," Army regulations say.
Spc. Ross McGinnis had been trained to yell a warning to the soldiers riding with him if a grenade had fallen into the vehicle, then jump out, said Maj. Michael B. Baka. He was McGinnis' company commander in Adhamiyah, Iraq, in 2006. Baka is now a special to assistant to the commandant at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
"If he'd done that, no one would've questioned it," said Baka. "Instead, he chose the harder right."
On Dec. 4, 2006, McGinnis threw his back on top of a grenade that an insurgent had thrown into his vehicle, Baka said. McGinnis was a gunner at the end of a six-vehicle patrol convoy,
"McGinnis died instantly," Baka said. But the four other soldiers in the vehicle survived. "He chose that as his final act on Earth."
At least two witnesses are required to verify the event, said Carol Cepregi, of the South Carolina-based Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
That McGinnis deserved the Medal of Honor was "pretty clear," Baka said. He gathered sworn statements and formally nominated McGinnis about 24 hours after McGinnis died, Baka said.
The award process often exceeds 18 months, Cepregi said. The military wants to ensure the accuracy of events that led to nomination for the honor, she said.
Baka also immediately nominated McGinnis for the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for bravery in combat, he said. McGinnis received that award.
"I wanted to turn it around in time for the funeral for his family," Baka said. "So he would be recognized for his valorous act."
Medal of Honor facts
Created in 1861. Total recipients: 3,465 Living recipients as of Wednesday, May 28, 2008: 105 U.S. Army Spc. Ross McGinnis is the fifth recipient of the Medal of Honor the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He is the second Army soldier to win the award. Four earned the award in Iraq; one earned the award in Afghanistan. All died due to their Medal of Honor actions. Pennsylvania ranks second only to New York as the home state for the number of Medal of Honor recipients. Pennsylvania boasts 377 to New York's 662.
Sources: U.S. Army; U.S. Army Maj. Michael B. Baka; Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Other recipients Other Medal of Honor recipients who served in Afghanistan or Iraq:
• Lt. Michael P. Murphy, Navy SEAL, killed June 28, 2005, in Asadabad, Afghanistan. Murphy exposed himself to enemy fire to find a spot in the rugged terrain where he could get a clear radio signal to call in support for his pinned-down team.
• Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, 7th Marines, killed April 14, 2004, in Karabilah, Iraq. Dunham covered an enemy grenade with his helmet and body to shield his squad from the blast.
• Master-At-Arms 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, Navy SEAL, killed Sept. 29, 2006, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Monsoor threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of two teammates.
• Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, 11th Engineer Battalion, killed April 4, 2003, in Baghdad. Smith organized and led a hasty defense when his construction team was attacked, and he manned a .50-caliber machine gun on a damaged armored personnel carrier to keep the unit from being overrun.