Family, friends remember Minn. Army Rangerby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The past few days have been some of the toughest in years for Minnesota families with loved ones at war.
Three Minnesotans were killed in Iraq Thursday. A Minnesota pilot died in Afghanistan over the weekend, and there is now word that a 21-year-old Army Ranger from Rosemount has died from wounds he got in combat earlier this month in Afghanistan.
The Defense department confirmed Monday that Cpl. Benjamin Kopp died Saturday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Ben Kopp was a 2006 graduate of Rosemount High School and was serving his first tour in Afghanistan after completing two tours in Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Kopp's mother, Jill Stephenson, said Ben's decision to join the Army out of high school was influenced by his great-grandfather, who served in World War II.
"He took a liking to history, of our country, and had a lot of interest in the stories that he had to tell about where he went and what he did," Stephenson said. "Great-grandpa had a lot of medals that were on display in the house, and Ben was interested in those and where they came from. It was really his great, I think, respect and admiration for him that turned him on and gave him an interest in serving his country."
Stephenson announced her son's death Saturday with a message on the CaringBridge Web page set up to monitor his progress. She wrote that Ben was injured July 10, and the loss of blood caused him to go into cardiac arrest at the battalion surgical center. He never regained consciousness. Kopp was transported to Germany and then to Washington, D.C., where he died one week later.
In an e-mail to MPR News, a member of Kopp's unit said his good friend was shot twice in the leg while they were both on a special operations mission.
The Army news release says insurgents attacked the unit with small arms fire in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Kopp had no brothers or sisters. But he had many friends who are now mourning his death. Brianna Robinson of Rosemount knew Ben Kopp since the 9th grade. Her boyfriend was one of his best friends and Robinson describes Kopp as an amazing person.
"One of the funniest guys I knew," Robinson said. "The sweetest person, caring, very outgoing, polite, dedicated to anything he did. Very strong."
Robinson said she last saw Kopp in the spring when he was home on leave. She said many of his old friends made sure he had a good time before he left. Robinson said Kopp he liked talking about his military service.
"Of course he was proud of it. He loved doing it," she said. "That's what he'd always wanted to do. He talked about it a lot. He talked about all of his friends in Georgia, and how he wanted to stay down south when he was done. He really loved it."
At Rosemount High School, assistant principal Tom Conboy said news of Ben Kopp's death has left anyone who knew him feeling sad. Conboy remembers Kopp as someone he used to see at school as well as his own house.
"Ben was a friend of my son Andrew, and Ben has been to my house many times, and Andrew has been to Ben's house many times," Conboy said. "So, it's been particularly difficult for our family."
Conboy said Kopp played football and lifted weights and that Kopp approached most activities with intensity and a strong work ethic. Conboy said he wasn't surprised to hear that Kopp had become an Army Ranger.
"I know he was very excited about serving his country," Conboy said. "Had a really great sense of right and wrong, in terms of, I think he would be considered to be very patriotic and want to be that guy to defend his country."
Words of sympathy and remembrance are coming in to two Web sites dedicated to Kopp's memory. Jill Stephenson said she's been reading the messages and is taking comfort in the way her son touched others.
"He made me more proud than I really ever thought was possible in life," she said. "And now in his passing, in the conditions in which he died and being an organ donor, words can't express how elated I am and how proud I am to be his mother."
Stephenson said her son had requested to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She said plans are also being made for local services, but no decisions have been made.
- All Things Considered, 07/20/2009, 5:24 p.m.