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Originally published Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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GI's heroic sacrifice hailed

If there's an opportunity to escape the deadly blast of a grenade, the Army trains soldiers to take it. When an Iraqi insurgent threw a...

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — If there's an opportunity to escape the deadly blast of a grenade, the Army trains soldiers to take it.

When an Iraqi insurgent threw a grenade inside the Humvee where Pfc. Ross McGinnis manned the machine gun, he had time to jump from the turret and save himself.

But he didn't. In seconds, with four comrades stuck inside, McGinnis yelled "grenade" into his microphone, dropped down and smothered the explosive with his back.

On Monday, in a solemn White House ceremony, President Bush presented McGinnis' parents, Tom and Romayne, with a posthumous Medal of Honor for their son, who absorbed the grenade's impact and saved the other men.

"America will always honor the name of this brave soldier who gave all for his country and was taken to rest at age 19," Bush said. "No one outside this man's family can know the true weight of their loss."

Eighteen months later, memories of the incident remain seared in the souls of those McGinnis saved. In interviews, McGinnis' brothers-in-arms choked up as they recounted the Dec. 4, 2006, attack.

"If [McGinnis] wouldn't have blocked it with his body, there's no doubt that nobody would have escaped it," said the Humvee's driver, Sgt. Lyle Buehler, who was wounded by shrapnel.

Raised in Knox, Pa., a town outside Pittsburgh, McGinnis joined the Army at age 17 through its delayed-entry program.

"I guess about the only thing you're really going to remember about my son is that he did the right thing at the right time," his father, Tom, said after the ceremony.

After his death, McGinnis was promoted to the rank of specialist and was awarded the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Army Good Conduct Medal.

During Monday's ceremony — only the fourth time the Medal of Honor has been presented for exceptional valor during the Iraq war — Bush was noticeably choked up.

"We were supporting each other because he said if I cry, he would probably cry," said Romayne McGinnis, relating an exchange at a private meeting with the president before the ceremony. "If he cried, then he'd make me cry."

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In an interview, McGinnis' roommate, Cpl. Brennan Beck, of Lodi, Calif., said that lately he's been dreaming about his buddy.

A week ago, he said, he dreamed of walking around with his friend on their base in Iraq. McGinnis was wearing the Medal of Honor around his neck, and everyone was saluting him.

"He goes, 'Man, I hate being saluted all the time,' " Beck said, recalling the dream. "So I asked why he doesn't just take the medal off. He looked at me and said, 'Man, you know what a chick magnet this is? All the girls talk to me.' "

"I woke up," Beck said. "I missed him so bad, but I had a smile on my face."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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