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Book reveals 'Heart of a Ranger'

This photograph of mother Jill Stephenson and her son Cpl. Ben Kopp was taken April 5, 2009 at the family's Rosemount home. Kopp was shot down while serving in Afghanistan. Submitted photo

Ben Kopp felt an inner calling to dedicate his life to protect America's freedoms in the United States military.

During his childhood, the Rosemount boy listened to personal stories from his great-grandfather Leroy Rogers who served in World War II. He knew he wanted to follow in his grandfather's footsteps.

But ultimately, it was the life-altering, tragic events of Sept. 11 that cemented Kopp's personal conviction to enter into the military, according to his mother Jill Stephenson, formerly of Rosemount.

A new biography about Ben Kopp's life has been released. The book "Heart of A Ranger: The True Story of Cpl. Ben Kopp, American Hero in Life and Death" is on many bestseller book lists.

Kopp, a corporal and Rosemount High graduate, died at age 21 while serving as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Kopp was shot down by a sniper on July 10, 2009. He died July 18 after complications when the young veteran went into a coma and eight days later was pronounced brain dead.

The biography was written by KSTP-TV anchor Bill Lunn. Although this is his first book, Lunn is not new to writing and has worked as a newspaper and radio reporter and he wrote for a wire service out of Chicago.

Compelling story

The biography about Kopp's life was conceived after a serendipitous encounter, Lunn said. Back in 2011 he was reading a newspaper article written about a heart transplant recipient Judy Meikle, who lives today because of Kopp's decision to become a heart donor.

"I was reading about Judy and a soldier from Rosemount and it rang a bell, and I vaguely remembered and I thought this story did not get the headlines it deserved," Lunn said.

Stephenson and Lunn ended up meeting together at the heart recipient's home in Chicago and the human interest story was nominated for an Emmy award.

The two formed a trusted friendship over the years. Lunn said Kopp's life is the most compelling story of his career because he lived a life of incredible bravery, sacrifice and personal commitment to serve his country.

This photograph of Ben Kopp, a Rosemount grad, was taken May 20, 2009, in Afghanistan. Submitted photo

"Ben was a young man inspired by his veteran and great-grandfather Leroy Rogers who fought in with the Red Bulls in World War II in the 34th Infantry division," Lunn said.

Kopp lost his grandfather in April 2001 and it was a great loss in his life, his mother said.

"Ben was absolutely devastated and crushed, and then five months later Sept. 11 happened and that sealed the deal," Stephenson said.

Kopp felt a personal mission to find and hunt down Osama Bin Laden and make him pay, his mother said. This heavily influenced Kopp's desire to become a U.S. Army Ranger so he could track down a terrorist who took so many American lives.

"He kept his eye on that prize and never faltered," Stephenson said.

The biography research, writing and editing process took three years. The book was supposed to be released on Stephenson's 50th birthday on May 19, but the biography was released early.

Stephenson looks forward to coming back to Rosemount to visit and celebrate the book that honors her son's life.

'He felt his purpose'

As a Gold Star mother, Stephenson said: "I don't believe Ben's life was cut short — I think he lived the exact amount of days he was expected to live and I never wanted to get in the way because he felt his purpose, and it was between him and God and it was not for me to say."

"I was seeing the bigger picture and God's plan for his life because I believe our days are numbered out before we arrive as an infant and before we are born," she said.

Kopp and his mother made a home in Rosemount since he was a fifth-grader and he graduated from Rosemount High School in 2006. Lunn interviewed many of Kopp's childhood friends from Rosemount and 20 fellow U.S. Army Rangers. Thirteen of those Rangers were present with him when he was shot.

"The most compelling interview was with the medic, Michael Melvin who gave Ben the initial care after he was shot and he got emotional a few times when we sat on the phone — he was big hearted and it almost broke my heart. I learned how America's biggest and bravest warriors have an emotional side," Lunn said.

Even after his death, American veteran Kopp continued to save lives as a patriot. His body saved the four Americans' lives and helped more than 60 people, his mother said. Kopp donated his organs, bones, skin and tissue, in addition to his heart that now beats inside the woman who lives in Chicago.

A few local book signings are planned locally, including an appearance at noon Thursday, May 18 at Rosemount High School library.

Another book signing is scheduled from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday, May 19 at Bogart's Place in Apple Valley at a local book launch party. Another book signing will take place on Friday, May 26 at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis.

Stephenson looks forward to returning to Minnesota to reunite with friends and community members at the annual Ben Kopp memorial motorcycle ride. The dinner, silent auction and ride that honors her son's life and will take place July 28 and 29 at Bogart's Place in Apple Valley.

Stephenson said "I think the book will speak to many audiences — mothers and veterans and those who are serving now or those veterans in the community and friends who went off to the military and their family members."

When asked what the author learned from writing this war hero biography, Lunn said "I learned about amazing young men who are 18, 19, 20 years old and who are fighting our wars, and who are so highly trained as special U.S. Army Rangers and who are so dedicated. I really have respect for the men and women who defend our country."