Image: Romayne McGinnis cleans a memorial bench
Genaro C. Armas  /  AP
Romayne McGinnis cleans a memorial bench in Knox, Pa., dedicated to her son, the late Army Pfc. Ross McGinnis, on July 5. The soldier, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2008, will be inducted into the Little League Museum Hall of Excellence in August.
updated 7/10/2011 2:40:32 PM ET 2011-07-10T18:40:32

The condolence letters to Tom and Romayne McGinnis have slowed to a trickle, as have the invitations to the memorial dedications and veterans ceremonies.

Come December, it will be five years since their 19-year-old son, Army Pfc. Ross McGinnis, gave up his life to save four others from a grenade blast inside a Humvee — an act so courageous he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.

He's also the only former Little League baseball player known to have received the Medal of Honor, a distinction Little League International plans to recognize at the World Series next month when McGinnis gets enshrined into the Little League Museum's Hall of Excellence.

The McGinnises lost a son, but became Ross' ambassadors.

"For the longest time, I was kind of braced for this kind of stuff," Tom McGinnis said. "Romayne and I both felt obligated to take part in anything that came up in Ross' name. We're ambassadors, though most of the time, our nerves were steeled.

"Then we'll go through a little time, and this Little League thing comes up and it buckles our knees a little bit," added McGinnis. "It's not as bad as it was, but it was a horrible feeling to have lost a son. We've kind of gotten used to the idea, though it will never be the same."

When a marble bench memorializing their son was dedicated in front of the western Pennsylvania high school that Ross attended in Knox, the McGinnises were there.

When a military processing center in Pittsburgh dedicated the room in which new Army recruits take their initial oath, the McGinnises were there — a moment that Tom McGinnis says was especially poignant.

And they plan to be there, too, in South Williamsport on Aug. 27 when McGinnis is lauded again at the Little League World Series.

"Since 1944, when the first Little League graduates were old enough to join the U.S. Military, the number of Little League graduates known to have received the Medal of Honor: One," Little League said in a recent statement announcing McGinnis' selection. "That one person, among millions, is Ross McGinnis, a graduate of Knox (Pa.) Little League."

Parents Tom and Romayne McGinnis raised Ross and two older daughters in Knox, but they downsized about six years ago with all three children out of the house and moved to a modest modular home several miles away in Shippenville.

They're a folksy, friendly couple who will invite a relative stranger to dinner after just a couple hours of conversation. Tom works at an auto parts store and is aspiring web site designer. Romayne is a department manager at Wal-Mart.

Humbled and appreciative by the outpouring of support, the McGinnises also say they've become more selective over the years about the events they attend. They are frank about Ross' story, fiercely proud about his heroics yet not shying away from disclosing their son's trouble in school, or the lack of opportunities for youth in their rural region.

"It's one of those areas where if you want to do anything when you grow up, you have to leave," Tom McGinnis said.

That wariness in part led the McGinnises to encourage their children to pursue sports growing up. All three took part in Little League, with the two daughters playing softball.

Ross enjoyed playing baseball — manning second base and outfield in his youth — but wasn't enthralled with the game off the field. He didn't follow western Pennsylvania's major league team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and ended up becoming more interested in basketball.

But he did have an overarching passion to be a soldier. According to a profile on the U.S. Army web site, McGinnis drew a picture of a soldier when, as a kindergartner, he was asked what he wanted to become when he grew up. He enlisted in the Army on his 17th birthday, June 14, 2004, in Pittsburgh.

He died roughly 2½ years later when, on Dec. 4, 2006, while on patrol in Adhamiyah in Iraq. An insurgent on a rooftop threw a grenade into the Humvee that McGinnis and four others were riding.

"Without hesitation or regard for his own life, McGinnis threw his back over the grenade, pinning it between his body and the Humvee's radio mount. McGinnis absorbed all lethal fragments and the concussive effects of the grenade with his own body," the Army profile said. President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to his parents in June 2008.

It sits in a display case at the base of a fireplace, one of many mementos of Ross sprinkled throughout the house. A portrait of Ross wearing a black beret in front of an American flag hangs in the living room, his dog tags draped over the frame. A walking stick with their son's picture sits in a corner, a gift from a then-stranger in Ohio.

The elder McGinnises have spoken at military ceremonies and at a gathering honoring veterans at the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. They've attended the dedication of a memorial at the Boy Scout building in Knox, in which Ross attended meetings, and for the unveiling of the memorial bench in front of Keystone Junior-Senior High School in Knox.

"With Ross, and how far he went with the medal, we couldn't be prouder ... but it hurts," Romayne McGinnis said.

The Little League honor, though, took the McGinnises a bit by surprise. By his parents' account, Ross was an average player who enjoyed the game and learned about teamwork and sacrificing for the good of a team.

No one game stands out in their minds, like a game-winning hit or a diving catch in the outfield.

But the award isn't necessarily about what a Little Leaguer does on the field, but what he or she does afterward, organization president Stephen Keener said.

"That person, in our opinion, a Little League grad, has succeeded or accomplished something ... and can be held up as a role model for aspiring Little Leaguers," Keener said. "At the end of the day, it's people we want to point to and say, 'This person hasn't necessarily gone on to be a Hall of Famer, but they have gone on to something noteworthy.'"

And as it turns out, McGinnis is the only Little Leaguer to have earned a Medal of Honor.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Jill Biden: Military families need support, too

  1. Closed captioning of: Jill Biden: Military families need support, too

    >>> no one feels the burden of war more than the families of our brave servicemen and women. very close issue to joe biden and his wife, jill . i recently had the opportunity to speak to dr. jill biden about her special efforts to make sure as we support our troops their loved ones aren't forgotten. for almost ten years now, americans have cept the s have sent thei r sons and daughters off to war. including the country's second family, joe and jill biden .

    >> this is our son, bo, and this is when he came back from iraq . as you can see the smiles.

    >> reporter: of course, bo biden , a delaware national guardsman is just one of tens of thousands of national guardsman who has deployed to iraq or afghanistan, but they are not the only ones of carrying the burden of military service .

    >> we so often hear people say, support the troops. we don't often hear them say, we support the families of the troops. is part of this making that awareness?

    >> yes. the military families are serving, as well.

    >> reporter: the cost of that service from the emotional anxiety of having a loved one at war to relocation and job changes, to home upkeep is what first lady, michelle obama , and dr. biden want people it know about.

    >> we went around the country for about two years and listened and heard about the problems and some of the things that we could do.

    >> whether you're a business leader --

    >> reporter: in april they teamed up --

    >> each of us can show our appreciation for everything these families do.

    >> reporter: to promote a white house initiative called joining forces.

    >> people don't know that someone in their neighborhood, their school, their church is deployed. here is a single mom or a single dad who is trying to take care of the kids and manage everything by themselves.

    >> reporter: mother of three, maggie's husband is on his third overseas deployment.

    >> we have been married eight years and about 50/50 on time spent together.

    >> so, we're asking americans, go to your strength and whatever you do. whether you're a gardner, offer to help with the lawn. if you're a hair dresser , offer to cut the hair of the military children. whatever it is, offer your services to help a military family.

    >> reporter: dr. biden spends a lot her days traveling to spread the message.

    >> our son is in iraq .

    >> he's a medic. is this his first deployment?

    >> his third.

    >> his third. wow.

    >> reporter: we found her in chicago lending a compassionate ear to families of deployed troops.

    >> i remember when my son was deployed, that's how i kept thinking about it. how much longer, how much longer. it's hard, isn't it?

    >> reporter: and there was something else that brought her comfort that she often shares in gatherings like this.

    >> when he left at the deployment ceremony, a general's wife slipped a prayer into my hand and it meant so much to me and i did say that prayer every day. and whenever i was during my day, believe me, i'm a teacher, i could have been writing on the board or at an event and, you know, it would just go through my mind and that prayer came out.

    >> please go with each one of them and protect them


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