More than 500 people gathered Friday to witness the dedication of the Maneuver Center of Excellence’s new headquarters. McGinnis-Wickam Hall was named in honor of Spc. Ross McGinnis and Cpl. Jerry Wickam, Medal of Honor recipients representing the Infantry and Armor branches, respectively.
Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, MCoE commanding general, said the most significant part of the day was the building’s official renaming.
“This building has been known as Infantry Hall or Building 4,” he said. “Today, we are going to change that, and we’re going to reflect the uniting of Armor and Infantry here at Fort Benning. As we dedicate this building and honor the memories of Spc. McGinnis and Cpl. Wickam, we recognize that these Soldiers are representative of the very foundation of our Army — like the brick and mortar that solidifies this building, making it as strong and sturdy as it is.”
‘Tremendous honor’ McGinnis, a native of Pennsylvania, entered basic training at Fort Benning within days of his high school graduation. While deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Infantryman was fatally wounded when his convoy was attacked and a grenade was thrown into his vehicle.
“He made a conscience choice to save his fellow Soldiers — threw himself on that grenade in that humvee, saving the lives of all those others present,” Brown said. “At just 19, to make that choice is incredible.
“He chose to offer his life in exchange for the lives of the men he served with. He was a hero when a hero was needed. Age didn’t matter, nor did time and place. What mattered were his actions. His legacy and bravery will be remembered and honored by thousands who walk through the halls of this building.”
Nearly 40 years before McGinnis, Wickam joined the Army and trained to be an Armored Cavalryman at Fort Knox, Ky. He deployed during the Vietnam War with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
“It was his aggressiveness and coolness under fire that stands out when it comes to remembering the fearless leader who tragically lost his life at 25 years of age as a true hero,” Brown said. “Cpl. Wickam was a fighter, and although he was mortally wounded in what transpired in January 1968, it was only after he put up one heck of a fight. He assaulted enemy bunkers multiple times, captured enemy soldiers, disrupted an enemy ambush, saved countless lives all while under heavy fire that in the end would claim his life.
“Cpl. Wickam showed an unmatched warrior spirit and a fight and perseverance that was undeterred and unwavering. He never gave up and he never quit fighting — and today we remember him for his spirit.”
Family and friends of both fallen warriors attended the ceremony.
Michael Wickam, Jerry’s son, said being at the dedication was “a great honor.”
“It’s been almost 44 years since he was killed,” said Michael, who lost his father when he was 4 months old. “While my family doesn’t need any prompting to keep him in our memory, as the commanding general said today, it really helps the general public to remember the sacrifices our Soldiers have made in all of our wars. Although I did not know him, our family speaks of him often, and this is a great opportunity to keep his memory alive. There are several here today that he served with. It’s a tremendous honor.”
Michael said he hoped people who read about his dad would learn about leadership.
“Leadership is all about people,” he said. “The men in his unit that I’ve talked to over the last 10 to 15 years described him as devoted to them — they knew that they would follow him anywhere. Leadership, whether in business or in the service, in any walk of life, is about people, is about serving people.”
Thomas and Romayne McGinnis, Ross’s parents, said it was all about people for their son, too.
“He loved his friends,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t just being with other people; I think he liked having a bond with other people. There were so many guys — each one thought they were his best friend. Every friend was his best friend. There’s more to it than just hanging out together. If they needed something, he would do it.”
Now, their son’s name will be an inspiration to others who come through McGinnis-Wickam Hall, Thomas said.
“In choosing to memorialize these two Soldiers we purposely chose two junior Soldiers,” Brown said. “The Spirit of Fort Benning is about leadership. We have seen junior Soldiers stepping up time and time again, to carry the day and lead us to victory across the world. We must never forget. And with the dedication of this building, we will never forget.”
‘Unbelievable effort’ After the dedication, the headquarters building was opened to the public for tours of the state-of-the-art facility. The renovation, which began in 2008, is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2012.
Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the South Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the renovation was a “phenomenal effort.”
“A lot of high-tech energy capabilities are in this building,” he said. “Rainwater will come down and be able to take care of irrigation and take care of cooling. The amount of energy savings we built into the building, a little bit more expensive up front but will have great dividends as we look at how we’re going to pay back to the installation over time.”
Other “green” measures in the construction process include large windows that maximize natural lighting and the recycling of 90 percent of the materials removed from the building. “What it really sums up is just the culmination of this unbelievable effort at Fort Benning to be able to build the Maneuver Center of Excellence,” Semonite said.
“If you look around, there’s still work we have to do, but this really is the recognition that the (Base Realignment and Closure) process is complete.”
Semonite said it all goes back to the Soldiers — “the heart of our Army” — symbolized by the two bronze plaques on either side of the main entrance bearing the names and Medal of Honor citations of the namesakes of McGinnis-Wickam Hall.
“We cannot recognize our fallen Soldiers enough, nor thank their families enough, for the sacrifices they have made for the freedoms and the ideals that bind us together,” Brown said. “Every time a Soldier walks through the doors of McGinnis-Wickam Hall, they’ll think of Spc. McGinnis and Cpl. Wickam and remember the sacrifices they made and the incredible example they set.”