Soldier whose funeral Gates attended leaves behind a gift of life
Stars and Stripes August 8, 2009
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ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday quietly attended the Arlington National Cemetery funeral of a soldier killed by gunfire in Afghanistan.
It was the second time that Gates, as secretary, has gone to an Arlington funeral for a fallen soldier from the current wars, spokesman Geoff Morrell said.
Even the family of Cpl. Benjamin S. Kopp, a 21-year old Army Ranger with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, from Fort Benning, Ga., was unaware the secretary would be there, according to Morrell.
“He looks for all kinds of ways to honor the fallen,” Morrell said, but in the “least disruptive manner possible.”
Morrell said that Gates has asked his staff to provide photos and local news clippings of each U.S. fatality, and he also pens and signs his own letters of condolences to the families. As CIA director, Gates also would attend Arlington services for intelligence personnel.
The secretary often has looked visibly upset or spoken in a quivering voice when speaking publicly of the sacrifices made by those killed under his watch.
Kopp, from Rosemount, Minn., was wounded last month in Afghanistan by insurgent small-arms fire, according to the Pentagon. A Minnesota Public Radio report said Kopp was shot twice on a special operations mission in Helmand province on July 10. He died from those wounds on July 18 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., though he never regained consciousness after the attack.
It was Kopp’s third tour abroad, following two tours in Iraq.
Gates previously attended the funeral of Air Force Staff Sgt Phillip A. Myers at Arlington in April.
On March 16, Gates traveled unannounced to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to view the return of flag-draped coffins for his first time, and in a Pentagon press conference two days later, he described the experience as “very difficult.”
“I went to the back of the plane by myself and spent time with each of the transfer cases,” the secretary said, before stopping for a long pause to gather himself. He has not returned to view a Dover arrival since that visit.