Many will know Bill Lunn from his position as Emmy award winning news anchor at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but recently, Lunn has added “author” to his list of talents. Heart of a Ranger, a two-and-a-half-year venture about Army Ranger Ben Kopp, is his first book set to release May 2017. MinnesotaCountry.com sat down with Bill for the inside scoop.
Minnesota Country.com: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE HEART OF A RANGER? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO TELL RANGER BEN KOPP’S STORY?
Bill Lunn: I was inspired by many things to write Heart of a Ranger. First I covered Ben Kopp’s story as a news reporter, traveling to the Chicago area to meet Ben’s heart recipient Judy Meikle. I interviewed both Judy and Ben’s mom, Jill Stephenson, and we put together a compelling TV news story back in 2011. But the story really stuck with me. When people would ask, “What is your most memorable news story?” I would always say the story about Ben Kopp laying down his life for his country in Afghanistan and then saving at least four people through organ donation, including donating his heart.
I was also inspired by the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. She is a tremendous writer and researcher. Unbroken was a true account of some extraordinary events that happened during World War II. I would never compare myself to someone of Hillenbrand’s stature, but as I was reading the book I thought to myself, I can do this. I am a journalist. I am trained to research things, interview people, and write about it. I was traveling to Fort Benning in the fall of 2014 to visit my son who was going through OSUT (basic training) and I recalled that’s where Ben had trained and had been based as a Ranger. On the flight down in 2014, that’s when I turned to my wife and said I was going to write the book. I had lunch with Ben’s mom about a week later, and she said that she’d been praying for six months that someone would approach her with this.
MNCountry: WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR READERS TAKE AWAY FROM THE BOOK?
BL: Well, first this is all about Ben. Ben Kopp sacrificed his life for our country. He paid the ultimate price. And based on some of his conversations in life he knew the risks, and he was willing to do that. I am a firm believer that freedom is not free and that it comes with a cost. So I hope my readers are appreciative of Ben’s sacrifice.
The book is also very much about Ben’s mom, Jill Stephenson. She is a shining example of a Gold Star mother. Ben was her only child. How does one deal with unspeakable loss? The book offers people who’ve suffered unthinkable tragedy the hope to go on and find meaning and purpose in loss. Jill is a great example of that.
Ben lived life at an incredible pace. Even though he only lived 21 years, he was “stuck on full throttle” as one of his Ranger brothers said at his funeral. The book kind of moves along at Ben Kopp’s pace. I think it’s very entertaining, simply because Ben was a very interesting and inspiring young man. For those interested in military stories and special operators, this is a very deep and intimate look into their world. And finally, it shows everyone the importance of being an organ donor.
MNCountry: WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART AND WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN COMPLETING THIS BOOK ABOUT RANGER BEN KOPP?
BL: I was mesmerized by hearing the stories from Ben’s fellow Rangers. I interviewed Rangers of various ranks and duties. It was an honor to be able to interview more than 20 Rangers who gave me very personal accounts of not only life as a Ranger, but about Ben, even intimate details of how he was shot during a big battle in Afghanistan and how his death affected them. They did not have to do that. For some of the Rangers, the interview process was a very emotional process. But nearly every one I asked for an interview was willing to share his story, and I am deeply grateful for that.
The biggest challenges were tracking down that next interview. Jill was tremendously helpful with that as she keeps in touch with Ben’s Ranger brothers. But knowing that there were pieces of the puzzle missing and figuring out where to turn to get those answers was tremendously challenging. Another challenge was figuring out what to cut out of the book. There were so many interesting stories about Ben, and they were not all going make it in the final draft. That was difficult to do, but the editors I worked with were terrific and made the book much more readable. Heart of a Ranger is a patriotic story of an American hero. Someone we should all know and appreciate.
Be the first to get a copy of Heart of a Ranger at its official launch party hosted by Bill Lunn at Bogarts in Apple Valley, MN, on May 19, 2017! Head over to the event’s Facebook page for full details.
Heart of a Ranger will be available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Itasca Books, Magers and Quinn, and The Book Stall immediately after the release party.
As an added bonus, come out to the release party to hear country band, JT & The Gunslingers play after the book signing! And if that’s not enough for you, come to celebrate Ben Kopp’s mother, Jill Stephenson’s birthday.
Bill will be signing copies of Heart of a Ranger:
Friday, May 26th– Magers and Quinn in Minneapolis, MN from
Saturday, June 17th– The Book Stall on Elm Street in Winnetka, Illinois from 2-5 pm (Details here)
Bill Lunn on Facebook.
Bill Lunn on Twitter.
Written by Kayla Meyer