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  • “Ben was credited with saving the lives of his fellow soldiers in combat and then he ended up saving and improving the quality of so many other lives, including mine,” Meikle said. “The ripple effect of that joy continues to pour in from the thousands of people affected by this heroic young man. It’s just incredible.”

    Ben was a universal donor and his heart was a perfect match. Miraculously, Meikle’s wait time was only onethird the national average.

    “Eighteen people die every day waiting,” she said. “The odds are astronomical that I would even find a heart, but that it also be a match? And a hero? Someone was definitely looking out for me.”

    It’s not the first time Jill’s family had to come to terms with a sudden, tragic death. Jill was just 15 when her 11-year-old brother, JT (Jonathan Troy) was struck and killed by a car.

    Both Ben and JT shared a love affair with danger.

    “Like my brother, Ben was a risk taker,” she said.

    “He had no fear and that fills a mother with constant fear. Fear that he’s in harm’s way, or fear that he’s making a poor decision. Today we know our sons are safe. They can’t be hurt. There’s no more risk. There’s no more worry.”

    Though it was one of the most trying experiences of her life, the loss of JT provided Jill and her family with coping skills they hoped they would never need again. But 27 years after the loss of her brother, Jill found herself mourning the death of her 21-year-old son.

    “I feel blessed that I only need to turn to my parents for the greatest understanding of this,” Stephenson said. “They know how hard it is and I knew in advance some of the things I would have to go through in the grieving process. This all helped me survive.”

    When JT was taken off life support, Jill’s family decided donating his organs was the right thing to do. It was the decision they thought JT would have made if he were able. It’s a decision that can change countless lives—even today.

    “Back then we only got a single letter from the recipient of his kidney, but it was well known in my family what happened to JT. Ben knew the uncle he never met was an organ donor, he decided to do the same thing.”

    When the corporal filled out Tab 6 of his Emergency Notification and Casualty Assistance Booklet for 75th Ranger Regiment, the details of his last wishes were clear:

    Personal effects I want buried with me: A Can of Dip and a Case of Beer
    Scripture you want read: Something Honorable and Heroic
    Other special requests? I want a flyover with Blackhawks over the funeral
    Do you want to be an organ donor? Yes
    If yes, which ones? Any that are needed
    New Biological Family

    For Stephenson, being in Meikle’s presence makes her own heart beat faster.

    “It’s a surreal feeling being with her—near her—knowing that a part of my son lives on inside her,” she said. “And not just any part—his heart—the best part. I love that. I keep finding myself looking for

    Ben’s idiosyncrasies in her and listening for things he might have said.”

    Laughing, she added she secretly hopes Judy will spontaneously throw on a pair of combat boots one day and take off on a 15-mile ruck run.

    With Ben’s 21-year-old warrior heart beating inside of her, Judy Meikle is “better than new,” and has all but been adopted by the Kopp and Stephenson families—another blessing for Meikle who had no immediate family prior to the transplant.

    “I’m 60 now, and I have a living great-grandmother,” Meikle said. “I eat Thanksgiving dinner with my new family every year, and I’m just truly blessed. I thank them every day from the bottom of my big, brave Ranger heart.”

    Ben Kopp and his mother, Jill Stephenson. Courtesy of Jill Stephenson
    On a cool August morning in Rosemount, Minnesota, bagpipes wailed Amazing Graceas the hearse carrying Ben Kopp’s remains arrived at the local high school. A crowd gathered as six of Ben’s brothers-in-arms, dressed in their Army greens and tan berets, prepared to carry his coffin into the gymnasium.

    From over the cottonwood trees, an Army Black Hawk helicopter appeared and lowered directly over

    Ben’s coffin—hovering for a moment before rising gently into the clouds. Perhaps lifting his soul to a better place—a place reserved for our best.

    For his heroism in combat, Ben Kopp was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor, the Meritorious Service Medal and a Purple Heart, on top of his two Army Achievement Medals, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge and most near and dear to his—and now Judy’s— heart: the highly coveted Ranger Tab.
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