By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As a nation celebrates Memorial Day, a special portion of the population faces the holiday with mixed emotions.

In the shadows of the Minnesota State Capitol, on the grounds set aside to recognize the sacrifices of military families, the mother of a fallen soldiers takes it all in.

Jill Stephenson is a Gold Star mom. Her son, Corporal Ben Kopp, sacrificed his life to save six other Army Rangers on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2009.

“To see people show up and still want to pay their respects in honor of what today is and what it means, it means a lot to me,” Stephenson said.

She says Memorial Day is not about spending time at the lake or barbecues with family and friends. It’s a time to remember the sacrifices of men and women who died protecting our freedoms.

“On the battlefield that cost him his life, where he was injured, he saved six of his fellow Rangers, those brothers in arms,” Stephenson said.

Corporal Kopp made it from Afghanistan to Walter Reed Hospital.

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“Eight days after he was wounded, he was removed from life support. That brain death enabled him to become an organ donor, and so upon his death he donated bone, skin, tissues and major organs, so he directly saved the lives of four people,” Stephenson said.

All told, Kopp saved 10 lives and enhanced the lives of 55 more with bone, skin and tissue donations. Stephenson wants every American to stop and think about the freedoms we have, and to remember the sacrifices our warriors and their families have made to protect those freedoms.

“We’ve been gifted years that the men and women who sacrificed their lives didn’t have, and I think we owe it to them to live out our years in honor of their years that were lost,” Stephenson said. “To remember the glory that they fought for. To remember their sacrifices and to know that we get to enjoy the freedoms that we do. Even that extra day off of work, because of what they were willing to give up for us.”

The woman who received Kopp’s heart turned 68 Sunday — her 11th birthday with a new heart.

Stephenson hopes every fallen hero is remembered in a special way this, and every, Memorial Day.

Reg Chapman

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