The Heart of an Army Ranger
This weekend Jill Stephenson is walking across a swath of Illinois to honor fallen soldiers and to help Americans remember them. Once you learn about her late son Benjamin Kopp, you may find that his story is impossible to forget.
The Chicago Tribune reports:
When her son enlisted at 18, many people asked Stephenson, who was a single mother, “How can you let him do that?” But she had known there would be no other route. He was determined. And she was proud of him.
Kopp was a “boy’s boy” who played with trucks and dirt and pored over his great-grandfather’s war medals in their Minnesota lake house. The death of his great-grandfather, a World War II veteran, and the Sept. 11 attacks that followed soon after, turned into a mission of grief and vindication for him.
Just one month after graduating from his Minnesota high school in 2006, Kopp headed to Fort Benning in Georgia to begin his training. By 2007 he was in Iraq and after a second deployment there the following year, he arrived in Afghanistan in 2009. On July 10 of that year Cpl. Benjamin Kopp and fellow Army Rangers were involved in a furious battle.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported:
According to a Ranger news release, Kopp’s unit “attacked a Taliban safe haven where they fought a determined enemy from multiple directions for several hours, resulting in the killing of more than 10 Taliban fighters.”
The combat took place in the early morning hours. [Ranger Chaplain Jeff Struecker] said Kopp was leading a machine gun unit that was providing cover for a reconnaissance team that was attempting to make a safe withdrawal. During the exchange of gunfire, Kopp had to emerge from cover and was shot in the leg.
On July 19, 2009 the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported that he had died from the injuries sustained in combat. According to the Pioneer-Press:
Kopp’s mother, Jill Stephenson, announced her son’s death Saturday night on a CaringBridge.org Web site.
Stephenson wrote in a journal entry that Kopp died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., where he had been in an induced coma and on a ventilator.
Kopp had been hit in the popliteal artery behind the knee. He went into surgery in a battalion surgical center, Stephenson wrote, and then went into cardiac arrest due to excessive blood loss. Doctors performed CPR, and he was revived, she said.
He was kept sedated and on ventilator during surgery to repair the damage to the artery and popliteal vein, she said, but he never woke up…
“Ben had a deep love of country and has just left a legacy of heroism for all of us to cherish,” she wrote.
“Be as proud of him as I was as his mother. I have been blessed for 21 years with a beautiful young man who came to be loved by thousands. I thank God for sharing him with me and for allowing him to die proud.”
He died proud and young. During a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Ronald Reagan once remarked:
It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember.
Benjamin Kopp gave up everything for our country, for us. But it turns out that he wasn’t nearly done giving. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune noted that more than 700 people gathered at his high school to honor his memory, and for others he left much more than memories.
Before heading into harm’s way Kopp had checked a form to donate organs. When asked to specify which ones he wrote, “Any that are needed.”
One life was saved immediately. In 2009 the Washington Post reported on the patient:
“How can you have a better heart?” said a grateful Judy Meikle, 57, of Winnetka, Ill., who is still recovering from the surgery. “I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me.”
Kopp’s mother, Jill Stephenson of Rosemount, Minn., said that in addition to her son’s heart, doctors removed his kidneys, pancreas and liver for transplant.
“It helps my sorrow; it eases my pain. It really does,” Stephenson said. “I know that Ben wanted to help save lives . . . and it really prolongs Ben’s life and honors his memory so much and honors me in that we could save other lives.”
This week Ms. Stephenson tells the Chicago Tribune that the organ transplants ended up saving three other lives in addition to Ms. Meikle and that her son’s donations of bone, skin and tissue helped more than 50 others.
“To experience that joy along with the sorrow, it is a miracle,” Stephenson told the Star-Tribune back in 2009.
This weekend we can be grateful for her son, and for all the soldiers like him who have allowed us to live in the miracle called America.