Fort Benning, Georgia - Medal of Honor recipient SPC Ross McGinnis was the first Soldier honored at the National Infantry Museum, a week before the museum's exhibits open.

It's fitting McGinnis is the first Soldier honored in this museum because he, and Infantry Soldiers like him, were the inspiration for the museum, said MG(R) Jerry White, chairman of the National Infantry Foundation. McGinnis' parents, Tom and Romayne, and sister Katie, along with White and MG Michael Barbero, post commanding general, unveiled a plaque featuring McGinnis' likeness and Medal of Honor citation during a ceremony Friday.

McGinnis, who graduated from one station unit training on Sand Hill, earned the Medal of Honor Dec. 4, 2006, in Adhamiyah, Iraq. The machine gunner with C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, was providing rear security in the turret of a humvee during a combat patrol in the northeast Baghdad neighborhood when an insurgent threw a grenade.

McGinnis tried to deflect it, but it landed in the hatch, near the radio. McGinnis yelled "grenade" to warn the crew, then threw himself on it, absorbing the blast and saving the lives of SFC Cedric Thomas, SSG Ian Newland, SGT Lyle Buehler and PFC Sean Lawson. McGinnis died instantly.

Both Thomas and Newland attended the ceremony. "His sacrifice changed absolutely everything," said Newland who medically retired after the attack and attends college now. "(Ross was) not your typical, run-of-the-mill Soldier, not some 25-year-old solid, strong guy who had been in combat a million times. This kid was 19 years old and scared like the rest of us. He (showed) the nation how strong Soldiers can be."

Romayne McGinnis said her son found his calling in the Army. "He loved it, loved the discipline, the PT and camaraderie with other Soldiers," she said. After graduating from 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, McGinnis was stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany, with the Big Red One.

It was through physical training and ability group runs before the unit deployed in August 2006 that MAJ Mike Baka, McGinnis' company commander in 1st Bn., 26th Inf. Regt., became familiar with the young Soldier. "Not many Soldiers can run two miles in 12 minutes," Baka said.

"He kept his military bearing around me; it was only after his death, through videos, did I learn what a jokester he was." McGinnis was chosen to man the .50 caliber machine gun because of his proficiency, Baka said. "He was armed to the hilt when he was in the turret," Baka said, listing the .50 cal, squad automatic weapon, M-16, firing port weapon and 9 mm pistol McGinnis kept close when on patrol.

"He was the best the platoon had."

Thomas, the platoon sergeant, recommended McGinnis for early promotion. "He was always exceeding the standard, always taking on another task, when there was a detail, McGinnis volunteered for it," Thomas said.

"I had to tell him to let others help carry the load." Baka decided to promote McGinnis to specialist with a waiver at 17 months in service. "He earned it. I had 190 Soldiers and two waivers," Baka said. "I signed his 15 minutes before we went on patrol."

During the honor ceremony that also celebrated the Army's 234th birthday, Fort Benning's commanding general told the hundreds in attendance that McGinnis embodied what it means to be a Soldier.

And on the day he died, he demonstrated the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor and personal courage, Barbero said. "Ross was an outstanding young man," said Baka, who recommended McGinnis for the nation's highest award. "His family, the values he got from his parents, they did 90 percent of the work. The Army topped it off."

President George Bush presented the Medal of Honor to McGinnis' parents a little more than a year ago, nearly 18 months after his death.

"Ross exemplified the training all Infantry Soldiers get," his mother said. "Ninety percent of all Soldiers would do the same thing (covering a grenade with their bodies to save fellow Soldiers)," she said.

My son gave these Soldiers a second chance, a gift, Tom McGinnis said, not a debt to repay.

There isn't a day that goes by, Newland said, that he isn't thankful. "Ross gave me an extra day - to be able to play with my daughter, to be able to teach my son something in his honor," Newland said.

"McGinnis is forever part of our Army team," Barbero said. "It is appropriate we honor his courageous actions with this plaque at the new museum, which is dedicated to the American Infantryman.