Ten years ago today, Corporal Benjamin Kopp's spirit departed from this world-but he remains with us in far more than memory.
Ben was raised in Minnesota, where his mother described him as a "boy's boy." He played in the dirt with toy trucks and revered his great-grandfather, a decorated veteran from World War II.
Then came 9/11, which changed Ben's life forever, just as it changed the lives of so many Americans.
Ben was only 13-little more than a boy-but on that day of tragedy, he felt the call of duty to his country. Moreover, he sensed a rendezvous with destiny remembering his great grandfather, the heroic veteran.
Ben enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 18, shipping off for basic training at Fort Benning not long after his high school graduation. There he grew into a man and an Army Ranger. He was assigned to fight with the Army's famed Seventy-Fifth Ranger Regiment.
He served two deployments in Iraq and then went to Afghanistan in 2009. There, Ben and his buddies were exposed to heavy combat, as Rangers usually are.
On June 10, 2009, they were engaged in an hours-long intense firefight with Taliban insurgents in Helmand Province. Ben was leading a machine-gun crew providing suppressive fire for a group of Rangers amid the enemy onslaught, then exposed himself and was shot behind the knee right in an artery. He was evacuated from the battlefield and placed in an induced coma.
Despite the surgeon's best efforts, Ben never recovered from the loss of blood and cardiac arrest he'd suffered. Eight days later, on July 18, 2009, at the age of only 21, Ben Kopp returned home to the Lord at Walter Reed Medical Center.
Yet Ben is with us still. The heart of this Ranger beats on even today. Let me explain.
Before deploying, Ben did a lot of paperwork, like all soldiers do. On one form, he checked a box to be an organ donor, and where it asked which organs he wished to donate, he simply wrote, "any that are needed." In death as in life, Ben lived up to the Ranger creed to shoulder more than his share of the task-one hundred percent and then some.
And so, just two days after Ben's heart stopped beating, it beat anew in the chest of Judy Meikle, an Illinois woman who'd waited seven months just to get on the organ-donation list.
"How can you have a better heart?" Judy said as she recovered, "I have the heart of a 21-year-old Army Ranger war hero beating in me."
Ultimately, scores of people came to benefit from the sacrifice of this young soldier from Minnesota-from his very blood and bones. Four lives were saved, all told, because Ben gave his all-his very body-for their sake.
Ben departed 10 years ago, but his legacy lives on in the patients whose lives he touched-and through the brave works of his mother, Jill, who has devoted her life to veterans' causes. This year, she organized the 2nd Annual Freedom Walk to the Wall, challenging America to walk 1,000,000 miles in honor of our fallen heroes.
The tragedy of Ben's loss has touched Jill in unexpected ways, as well. She has remained close with the Army Rangers who served alongside Ben-and even those who'd never met him. Just recently, two freshly minted Rangers from Minnesota reached out to speak with Jill. You could say she lost her son, but gained a family of Rangers.
In Genesis, it's written that the Lord God created Eve from the rib of Adam, the first man. And when God brought her to Adam, he said: "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh."
That mysterious passage takes on new meaning when we reflect on stories like Ben's. Thanks to his willing sacrifice, Ben connected with scores of his fellow countrymen in one of the most intimate ways imaginable. For all time they will remain bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.
Rangers Lead the Way-that's what new Rangers learn at Fort Benning. In life and in death, Corporal Ben Kopp led the way. And his story will inspire us for many years to come, for indeed he is with us still.