Honor Bound With Red Tape

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Honor bound with red tape
by Brian Bowling

Left, Romayne and Thomas McGinnis may have to wait more than to years to find out if their son, Pfc. Ross McGinnis, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor. McGinnis died Dec. 4 from wounds suffered after a grenade tossed into his vehicle from a Baghdad rooftop.

PITTSBURGH–Pfc. Ross McGinnis decided in a split second to fall on a grenade to shield four other soldiers from the blast.

But it could take the Pentagon more than two years to decide whether the soldier’s sacrifice in Iraq warrants a posthumous Medal of Honor.

McGinnis, 19, of Knox, died Dec. 4 from the wounds he suffered in the explosion, after a grenade was tossed into his vehicle from a rooftop in Baghdad.

Some veterans say a two-year wait is too long for such a clear-cut case of heroism.

“That’s pretty special,” said Walter Joseph Marm Jr., 65, a Washington, Washington County, native who received his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson on Dec. 19, 1966…

     

Marm said it’s important for the Pentagon to maintain the integrity of its highest medal, but diving on a grenade to save others seems straightforward.

“You want to make sure they’re done right, but two years is kind of long,” he said, in a phone interview from his Fremont, N.C., farm.

Presidents have awarded four Medals of Honor since the Vietnam War — two from the war in Somalia and two from the war in Iraq. Those are the only four medals the Pentagon has submitted to lawmakers for approval. The Pentagon took more than two years in each case from the war in Iraq to make a recommendation.

The House Armed Services personnel subcommittee held a hearing Dec. 6 about why the Pentagon recommends relatively few acts of heroism for the Medal of Honor, and why the Defense Department takes so long to make recommendations.

No clear answers emerged from the hearing, but Brig. Gen. Richard Mills, director of the personnel management division at Marine Corps headquarters, testified that the nature of the Iraq war partly explains the paucity of Medals of Honor.

Mills said insurgents tend to use remotely detonated bombs instead of engaging in close combat, and U.S. troops tend to rely on stand-off weapons such as smart bombs and missiles.

Critics of the process, however, say that doesn’t explain why the Pentagon has been slow to recognize clear cases of heroism. The Army took two years, for example, to recommend Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, who died holding back insurgents while his wounded comrades were evacuated to safety. The Marine Corps took 2 1/2 years to recommend Cpl. Jason Dunham who — like McGinnis — fell on a grenade to save others in his unit.

Dominic DeFranco, state commander of the Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars, said stretching the process over two years forces surviving relatives to keep reliving the service member’s death.

“They’re entirely too slow on that kind of stuff. It’s hard on the family. All that should be done during the mourning period.”

Kit Watson, state adjutant for the Pennsylvania American Legion, said the military should maintain the integrity of the medal by being careful how it’s awarded, but the circumstances of McGinnis’ actions seem clear.

“I think if you’ve got accounts of what transpired that day, it shouldn’t take two years to investigate it,” he said. “With what we know, it sounds like it’s cut and dried.”

Thomas McGinnis, Ross McGinnis’ father, said the family supports any effort to honor his son’s heroism, but they have no desire to rush the process.

“I know what he did. I know why he did it,” McGinnis said. “No amount of honor is going to bring him back.”


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