It was in a hospital room in 2009 that Jill Stephenson met Mellinger, who was standing near the bedside of her son, Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, 21. Mellinger had heard that Kopp, a fellow Ranger, had been shot in Afghanistan and he went to see him. Mellinger immediately embraced Stephenson, she said.
“It was the most compassionate, caring hug around me that I ever have received from a stranger. It was very comforting,” said Stephenson, 44, of Rosemount, Minn.
Kopp died soon after. Stephenson has since stayed with Mellinger and his wife, Kim, on multiple occasions while in Washington to attend ceremonies at Arlington cemetery, where her son is buried.
Several soldiers who served directly under Mellinger in Iraq have reached out to him to talk about their combat-related mental health issues. One was a soldier who rang his doorbell and said he was haunted by the memory of helping to collect the remains of a fallen Marine, and he was bothered that he didn’t know the Marine’s name.
“I told him his name and we sat and talked for several hours,” Mellinger said.