Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ross McGinnis: Medal of Honor Recipient

Spc. Ross McGinnis
Specialist Ross McGinnis was just an average young man when he decided to sign up for the United States Army’s delayed entry program before he even graduated from high school. He was deployed to Iraq in August of 2006. Three months later, he committed an act that was anything but average. He sacrificed his own life to save his fellow soldiers. He was only nineteen years old. This deed was the ultimate act of kindness, bravery and selflessness and for this he was awarded the highest honor that can be given to a member of the United States Armed Forces, the Medal of Honor.

Ross McGinnis was born on June 14, 1987 in Meadville, Pennsylvania to Tom and Romayne McGinnis. The day of his birth was the 206th birthday of the United States Army. When Ross was three years old, his family moved to Knox, Pennsylvania, where he was raised with his two sisters, Becky and Katie. Ross joined the army’s delayed entry program when he was seventeen and went into basic training right out of high school. He was deployed with his unit a little over a year later.

On December 4, 2006, PFC Ross McGinnis was manning the M2 .50 caliber machine gun on a Humvee while patrolling in Adhamiyah, Northeast Baghdad, Iraq when an insurgent threw a grenade at the Humvee from a nearby rooftop. PFC McGinnis saw the grenade and tried to deflect it, but was unsuccessful; it landed inside the vehicle. He shouted “grenade” to warn the other soldiers in the Humvee of the danger, but Ross was the only man who was in a position to get out of the Humvee quickly. Instead, he dropped down from his position and trapped the grenade between his body and the radio mount in the Humvee.

When the grenade went off, it tore apart the young man’s side and back and injured the four other men that were in the vehicle. All four of the other soldiers survived, but PFC Ross McGinnis was killed instantly. The convoy that they were traveling with managed to fight off the insurgents in the area and they all made it back to the FOB. Ross McGinnis was promoted to Specialist later that day; his CO had planned to promote him before he had died. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery on March 23, 2006.

On June 2, 2008, Spc. Ross McGinnis was awarded the Medal of Honor “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an M2 .50 caliber Machine Gunner, 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in Adhamiyah, Northeast, Baghdad, Iraq, on 4 December 2006.”  His parents received the medal for him during a ceremony at the White House.


The Story of Spc. Ross A. McGinnis, retrieved 8/30/09,

Tan, Michelle, Army PFC. Ross A. McGinnis, retrieved 8/30/09,

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mark Twain: Author and Essayist

Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Longhorne Clemens, was a successful American author. Today, Mark Twain is one of the most celebrate authors in American history. His stories represent a time in American history when the Mississippi River was still a place of adventure and slavery was working its way out of the system with which the still new country operated. His most famous works are "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." 

Mark Twain was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. When he was roughly 4 years old, the Clemens family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, a town that would later be inextricably linked with the name Mark Twain. This move brought Mark to the river that would play a huge role in his writing career, providing the fodder for both his pen name and his most popular written works.

After moving to Hannibal, Mark Twain's dad, Judge John Marshall Clemens, built a house that still stands today. He also sent his son to private school. Unfortunately, the judge died about 8 years later of pneumonia. Within the year, Twain had left private school and begun apprenticing with a printer. He apprenticed for two years before going to work at his older brother's newspaper. That lasted until he left for St. Louis at the age of 17.

If you have ever read Twain's Huck and Tom books, you know that, while his stories have a sense of nostalgia, they do not mimic his real childhood. Sure, he derives places and people from his experiences, but neither Tom nor Huckleberry had the upbringing Twain had. However, they do share a certain level of fatherlessness, which may have stemmed from Twain's own lack of a father in his teen years.

After moving to St. Louis, Mark Twain began working as a pilot on the Mississippi River. This job gave him the knowledge of the river that is apparent in some of his work. It also gave him the pen name that we know and love. Mark Twain was a term that he and other riverboaters used to signify a safe water depth for a boat to pass. He apparently enjoyed this job, but it was rendered unnecessary by the Civil War. At the onset of the war, Mark Twain returned to the newspaper biz, this time as a reporter.

In 1865, Mark Twain wrote his first popular story. In 1869, he published the Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The following year, he married his wife, Olivia. He went on to travel, write a total of 28 novels and numerous other works. He and his wife had four children, only one of whom survived past her twenties. Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, leaving a legacy of literature behind him.


Biography of Mark Twain

Friday, February 5, 2016

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Husband of Mary Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Portrait by Amelia Curran 1819
Percy Bysshe Shelley is among the most esteemed poets of the eighteenth century. He was a very passionate man and his work reflected his passion. Much of what he did and wrote during his lifetime was considered inappropriate; he was a man who lived by his own rules. He set a lot of stock in his feelings and it’s obvious that he abided by them. His actions were often rash and they got him into trouble at times. However, he was considered a peacekeeper and a kind man in his circle of friends, which included many other great writers of the time.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4, 1792, in Sussex. He was the oldest of Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley’s seven children. He had a very privileged childhood as the grandson of a baronet and the son of a future baronet. He attended Syon House Academy from 1802 to 1804 and was enrolled in Eton when he finished. He attended Eton until 1810, when he enrolled in University College, Oxford. That year, Percy’s father published two of his son’s poetry compilations and two of his novels.

Percy attended Oxford for a few months before he was thrown out of the school. He and his roommate were accused of writing a pamphlet called “The Necessity of Atheism.” At the time, this would have been considered very bad and, as neither of them were admitting nor denying writing the pamphlet, they were expelled.

By this time in his life, Percy Bysshe Shelley was an atheist and a radical thinker. Timothy Shelley disapproved of his son’s beliefs very much and tried to get Percy to change his ways. However, Percy refused and later ran off with a coffee house owner’s daughter in August of 1811. The girl’s name was Harriet Westbrook and Percy married her. Timothy helped to provide for his son and his new wife, but he refused to speak to Percy anymore after that.

In 1812, the couple went to Ireland to promote Shelley’s political views. They were home by the following year when their first child, Ianthe was born. In 1814, the relationship came to an end when Percy fell in love with the daughter of William Godwin, the author of “Political Justice.”  The young lady who Percy fell in love with would one day become one of the most famous authors of all time.

Percy’s new love was named MaryGodwin and she was only sixteen years old when the two of them ran off together in July of 1814. Percy was still married to Harriet and she gave birth to a son named Charles in November of that year. Mary was pregnant at the time. In February of 1815, Mary gave birth to a daughter, who died just a few days after she was born. In January of 1816, she gave birth to a son named William. During the summer of that year, eighteen-year-old Mary began working on the novel “Frankenstein.”

Near the end of 1816, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s wife committed suicide by drowning. When her body was found in a river, it was discovered that she was pregnant, presumably by a man other than her husband. In December, Mary and Percy married and attempted to gain custody of Percy’s children by Harriet. However, on March 27, 1817 Shelley was found to be an unfit parent (largely due to his work) and his children were placed in foster care. In September of that year, the Shelleys had a daughter named Clara.

Two years later, both Clara and William died, the family moved to Italy and Percy and Mary had another son, who they named Percy Florence. The couple had many friends in Italy and it would seem that Percy had a few romantic interests there too. Unfortunately, his life was cut short while he was sailing from a visit with one of these friends. Percy became caught in a storm on the Mediterranean Sea and drowned on July 8, 1822. After his death, Mary edited and published some of his work for him.


Everett, Glenn, Shelley Biography, retrieved 9/23/09

Percy Bysshe Shelley, retrieved 9/23/09, 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Raoul Wallenberg: Saved More People During the Holocaust Than Any Other Individual

Raoul Wallenberg
Raoul Wallenberg Passport Photo
Raoul Wallenberg was one of the heroes of the Holocaust. He was a brave defender of the lives of thousands. The Guinness Book of World Records lists him as the person who "single-handedly saved more people from extinction than any other individual." Like many of the heroes who fought to save lives during this dismal period in world history, his good deeds did not go unpunished. Raoul Wallenberg disappeared near the end of World War II. The circumstances of his disappearance have yet to be satisfactorily established. This is a brief life story of a man who, whether he lived the remainder of his life in captivity or died soon after his disappearance, gave his life to defend the lives of the innocents who were threatened by one of the most monstrous rulers the world has ever known.

Raoul Wallenberg was born on August 4, 1912. He was born into a wealthy and famous family of bankers and politicians. However, he was born fatherless. His father was a naval officer who died at the age of 23-three months before his son was born. Raoul's mother made up for his loss by being a loving mother who doted on her son. He may have even inherited his caring nature from her. Raoul's grandfather-Gustav Wallenberg also took the young boy under his wing. He oversaw Raoul's education.

Raoul graduated in 1930. By the time of his graduation, he was fluent in Russian and a talented artist. He joined the Swedish army to serve the nine months of military service that was required of Swedish men. He finished his service by 1931, at which time he left for Ann Arbor, Michigan. There, he attended the University of Michigan. He studied architecture and was an excellent student. When Raoul Wallenberg graduated from the university in 1935, he received a medal for his academic achievements along with a degree in Science in Architecture.

Raoul Wallenberg returned home to Sweden for a time after his graduation. From there, he went to Cape Town, South Africa where he worked as a building supplies salesman. Six months later, he went to work for a bank in Haifa, Israel (which was then Palestine).  He returned to Sweden once again in 1936. He met a businessman named Koloman Lauers around this time. He soon became a partner in Koloman Lauers' Mid-European Trading Company.

Raoul Wallenberg's new business partner was a Hungarian Jew. Through his work with Kolomar, Raoul found out the sickening truth about Adolf Hitler. It was not long before the rest of the world knew too. It is presumably around this time that Raoul began to feel empathy for the Jews of the world.

In March of 1944, the Nazis invaded Hungary. Roughly 700,000 Hungarians Jews became in danger of being taken, killed or both. The Nazis began taking Jews out of Hungary and bringing them to concentration camps almost immediately. The U.S.A.'s newly formed War Refugee Board met with officials in Sweden to discuss what might be done to save the Jews in Hungary. Raoul Wallenberg's business partner was among these men. When it was suggested that someone be sent into Hungary, Lauer mentioned Raoul. After some thought, it was decided that the intelligent, kind, resourceful young man who was fluent in Russian would be sent.

Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Hungary in July of 1944. By that time, more than half of the Hungarian Jews had been ripped from their homeland by the Nazis. Raoul immediately set to work building safe houses, acquiring barely official passes and pressuring officials. His efforts gave a large number of Jewish people save places to live, passes to protect them from the Nazis and he even managed to convince officials to allow him to exempt his Jewish staff members from wearing the Star of David.

All of the above was only the tip of the iceberg for Raoul Wallenberg. He chased down trains full of Jews to hand them passes in their cars. He provided essentials, such as medicine, clothing and food to the beleaguered Jews of Hungary. He was extraordinarily diligent in his efforts. He did not work alone, but it was his willingness to badger the Nazis that made the operation a success. In January of 1945, Raoul wrote a letter to a general who was meant to carry out the execution of tens of thousands of Jews. Raoul told the man, in no uncertain terms, that if he were to carry out his orders, he would be tried when the war was over and hanged as a war criminal. The man heeded Raoul's warning and thousands who were meant to die, lived because of him.

The Soviet army took Hungary from the Nazis in late 1944, early 1945. Raoul Wallenberg willingly went with a group of Soviet troops on January 17, 1945. Raoul said goodbye to his friends, who he told that he was not sure if he was a prisoner or a guest of the Russians. Either way, he was thought to be on his way to the Soviet headquarters in Budapest. His friends and family never saw him again. Click here to learn more about the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg.

Out of the roughly 700,000 Jews that lived in Hungary before the war, only 120,000 of them were accounted for when World War II ended. The large portion of them that were saved by Raoul Wallenberg never got the chance to thank their savior.


Metzler, David, Raoul Wallenberg, retrieved 5/28/10,

Bernheim, Rachel Oesteicher, A Hero For Our Time, retrieved 5/28/10,