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Bridge to honor fallen soldier Ben Kopp

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 photo1 / 2
Jill Stephenson, mother of fallen soldier Ben Kopp of Rosemount, attended a White House ceremony for Gold Star families. Photo courtesy of Jill Stephenson2 / 2

The first bridge in Minnesota memorializing a fallen soldier will carry the name of U.S. Army Ranger Ben S. Kopp of Rosemount.

The bridge will be renamed the Corporal Benjamin S. Kopp Memorial Bridge. The existing bridge runs along County Road 46 and over Highway 52 in Coates near Rosemount. Kopp died in 2009 after he was shot while on duty in Afghanistan.

"This is the first bridge in Minnesota with the name of a fallen soldier," said Jill Stephenson, Kopp's mother. "There are roadways named after fallen soldiers and law enforcement."

The public is welcome to attend the bridge dedication celebration ceremony at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 27, in Central Park near the veterans' memorial site in Rosemount.

Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste and Coates Mayor Craig Franzmeier have been invited to share a few words during the ceremony.

As a Gold Star mother, Stephenson is busy putting together ceremony program details. Military chaplain and Rosemount native Mike Shellman, who co-officiated Kopp's funeral, will be present and say a prayer at the bridge dedication ceremony. Shellman was assigned to Kopp's Ranger Battalion.

"We are hoping to put something together at the Rosemount Legion afterward," she said. Stephenson works as a motivational speaker and mentor and now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Stephenson researched how her son's service and memory could be honored with the memorial bridge.

"I was introduced to a nonprofit group called Bridges for the Fallen via a mutual Facebook friend," Stephenson said. The man who founded the group is Rob Mador of Massachusetts who directed her what steps to take.

The bridge dedication celebration is the night before the sixth-annual Memorial Motorcycle Ride for Ben Kopp on July 28-29. The two-day event includes a silent auction, Italian style buffet, memorial motorcycle ride and pig roast at Bogart's in Apple Valley. For more information, go to www.bogartsplace.com.

"We are hoping that the two legislators, Rep. Anna Willis and Sen. Greg Clausen, who wrote the bridge legislation will be at the ceremony," Stephenson said.

When asked what is will mean to have the memorial bridge named after her son, Stephenson said: "It means a lot because it is a permanent reminder in the community where Ben grew up and reminds them of the sacrifices he made for everyone and for all that still there free there."

Two memorial bridge signs with Ben Kopp's name will be posted on both ends of the bridge.

White House Gold Star Family ceremony

Stephenson said she is still giddy after attending a formal White House special private and personal ceremony that honored loved ones who died in service to their country.

The event was a special Gold Star Family ceremony held June 5 in the White House with President Trump and first lady Melania Trump.

As a Gold Star mother, Stephenson was a chosen guest, along with 51 other Gold Star families. Stephenson said she will be forever touched by the personalized candlelight vigil ceremony.

"No other president has ever done a ceremony like this before — ever," Stephenson said.

"The ceremony was just so very private and very intimate, and it was honorable and I did not feel like I was being exploited and our president made darn sure it stayed that way," Stephenson said.

Gold Star families represented were immediate family members of fallen soldiers in active duty that included spouses, children, mothers and fathers. Stephenson said she knew 12 Gold Star families in attendance.

"I still feel giddy about a week later, and I feel incredibly blessed and honored to have been chosen to be there," Stephenson said.

Stephenson said she had visited Washington D.C., in 1976 as a child, but this visit will be the most memorable because it honored her son Ben Kopp who died as an American hero protecting the freedoms of the United States.

President Trump spoke along with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor. The keynote speaker was Gen. John Kelly, secretary of Homeland Security who lost a son in active duty military service.

"All three men shared words and our country's highest military ranking official made us feel that he genuinely cared and about loses and he cared out us," Stephenson said.

President Donald Trump speaks at a White House ceremony for Gold Star families. Photo courtesy of Jill Stephenson

Hearing Kelly speak meant a lot to Gold Star mother Stephenson, she said. She works as an advocate, mentor and motivational speaker.

Stephenson said the ceremony was meaningful in her journey of healing as a Gold Star mother and a patriot.

"We all shared that bond of the loss and the sudden death of an immediate family member who died as heroes, and they each died fighting for our U.S. flag and defending our freedoms — they gave it all and were willing to do that as they signed their names on the dotted line and laid down their lives for our freedoms."

If you go:

The public is invited to attend the bridge dedication ceremony honoring fallen soldier Ben S. Kopp of Rosemount. It will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 27, at the Central Park Veterans Memorial site in Rosemount.

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