MEMORIAL DAY: Others help mother visit son killed in Afghanistan - KMSP-TV

MEMORIAL DAY: Others help mother visit son killed in Afghanistan

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This is certainly a special weekend for anyone who has lost a loved one in the military, but although one mother who lost her son in Afghanistan can't visit his grave, she has proof that he is not alone and his sacrifice is not forgotten.

President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to troops stationed in Afghanistan to mark Memorial Day, but although the commander in chief plans to end the war by the end of this year, that can't bring back the lives lost in it.

That's a sad reality for one gold-star mother whose son was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, a woman who says she is thankful that others will help her visit his grave since she can't make the trip this year.

"It just wells me up with patriotism and pride, and a little bit of sadness because I know the flags are for the fallen," Jill Stephenson said.

One of those flags is for Stephenson's grandfather, who fought in World War II. In fact, he was the inspiration for her son, Ben Kopp, to join the Army. Stephenson said that when the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, it "sealed Ben's fate."

"His grandfather died just 5 months before 9-11 took place," she explained. "When the world woke up and found out about 9-11, Ben took it personal because he felt it was a mockery of his great grandfather's service to America. At that point, at the age of 13, he declared he would be an Army Ranger and serve his country."

In 2009, Kopp died from wounds he suffered while serving in Afghanistan. On Sunday, his grave was visited by a coalition of special forces who called his mother in the afternoon.

"These three gentlemen that were there took time to talk to me on the phone for a couple of minutes and to thank me for my sacrifice," Stephenson told Fox 9 News.

Although Stephenson can't be there this Memorial Day, it's clear from his tombstone that he is not alone.

"It makes me feel grateful in the midst of my sorrow," she said. "I can have gratitude that so many people besides me love my son."

It's been 13 years since the war began in Afghanistan, and there are still 33,000 men and women serving in that country -- and that's a fact that gives Stephenson some pause.

"To believe that we are still there today, I'm not really sure how I feel about that," she said. "I don't know. I wish we weren't there."

Yet, Stephenson doesn't want to focus on Afghanistan. Instead, she hopes people will take a look around Fort Snelling and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice this weekend.

"There are families that are remembering loved ones not physically with them," Stephenson said. "We can have our barbecue and our blow-out sales because these men and women sacrificed their lives for our freedoms."

On Monday, Fort Snelling's honor guard will be in Washington, D.C., to participate in events there.

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