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Orville Lee McGinnis

Young American Patriots, 1946

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

Remember...

Orville Lee McGinnis
1914-1944

"When you go home
Tell them of us, and say
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today."

Patrick O'Donnell

U.S. Navy Seaman First Class Orville Lee McGinnis was born on March 20, 1914, to Ira Albert (born in 1878) and Cora Victoria Webb McGinnis. Although Orville was born in Glen White, he grew up in the town of Wickham in Raleigh County, West Virginia. According to 1910 and 1920 United States Federal Census records, the McGinnis family consisted of six children: Orville Lee, Elmer Howard, Homer Andrew, James Hereford, Ova, and Ira Alvin McGinnis. Ira McGinnis supported his big family through the building industry; he was a carpenter.

The McGinnis family has had roots in Raleigh County for quite some time. From a report about the early settlers of this county, it was said that Orville’s great grandfather, Pyrrhus McGinnis, was an early settler who served as a prosecuting attorney and was one of the leading trial lawyers in this section of the state. (Source: Judge W.A. Riffe, Beckley Post-Herald, 1950 Centennial Edition) Pyrrhus McGinnis was the father of Thomas Jefferson McGinnis, who married Nancy Helen Workman. No information was found about how much education Orville received, although his father had schooling through the eighth grade and his great grandfather seems to have been well educated.

Before heading off for the war efforts, Orville was employed at the New River Company mines at Cranberry. The New River coal field is located in northeast Raleigh County and southern Fayette County, West Virginia. The mines began to close down after World War II; today the New River Gorge area is in the domain of the National Park Service, and they have used their funds to try and preserve their coal heritage, although the area has very few active coal mines in the field at this time.

According to their marriage license, Orville McGinnis applied at the age of twenty-four to be married to Virginia Pauline Spade Counts (age twenty-two). They filed for marriage on January 16, 1939, and were officially joined in marriage on January 20, 1939, by L.H. Burns. Virginia McGinnis was born December 23, 1916, in Hinton, West Virginia, to Charles E. and Minnie E. Walk Spade. The young couple raised two sons, Edwin Woodrow “Lucky” McGinnis, who was an adopted son of Orville and Virginia’s biological son through a previous marriage, and Richard D. McGinnis.

Orville enlisted in the U.S. Navy on December 3, 1943, in Huntington, West Virginia. His military training was at Camp Bradford in Norfolk, Virginia. His rank was Seaman First Class. During his career serving in the navy, he served in Great Lakes, Illinois; San Francisco, California; and the Asiatic area of warfare close to the Philippines. He died in action aboard a damaged ship, the LST-695 (a landing ship) on October 24, 1944, en route to the Philippines. A crewman aboard the ship, William J. Russell, recalls the situation in Joseph Francis Panicello’s book, A Slow Moving Target: The LST of World War II (Authorhouse, 2002). The LST-695 had been torpedoed twice by the enemy but never sank while fighting in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Arriving American ships discovered the damaged vessel and the deceased men of the crew were buried at sea. Along with the LST-695, there were 144 American ships and 69 Japanese ships involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which is considered the “largest naval engagement in history.” Japanese warships off Samar, in the Philippine Islands, sank the USS-Johnson (DD-557) just one day after the LST-695 sustained damages, and this may account for the fact that it was stated that the LST-695 had been sunk.

Orville is memorialized on the Wall of the Missing in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. His family has received a Purple Heart in his honor. This award is rewarded to those who are wounded or killed while in action against an enemy force. The LST-695 was given two gold stars for its service in the battle.
Manila American Cemetery

Manila American Cemetery. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

An April 16, 1970, Beckley Post-Herald death notice for Virginia McGinnis states that she had been a resident of Chicago, Illinois, for 11 years. The McGinnis’ son Edwin lived in Chicago at that time, while Richard lived in Detroit, Michigan.

Article prepared by Mary Melinda Miesner, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015

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Orville Lee McGinnis

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