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From Tragedy to Tickets
New Glarus family sends soldiers home for visits in honor of their son
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Larry Jackson, Ben Kraemer and Jennifer Jackson meet up during Kraemer’s leave while serving in the Navy. Kraemer was one of the first recipients of a travel voucher, given from the Ben Jackson Foundation, that provides trips home to young soldiers serving in the military. Ben Jackson died in a motorcycle crash while stationed in Misawa, Japan, and was home seven weeks earlier to spend time with family. So far, 10 vouchers have been distributed.

NEW GLARUS — Airman First Class USAF Ben Jackson was stationed in Misawa, Japan, with the Air Force in 2018 when he found out he was getting some time off. 

The 2016 New Glarus High School graduate reached out to his father, Larry, at home and decided to surprise the rest of the family with an impromptu visit. Larry, who travels often for work, had miles saved up and was able to make it happen. 

That visit brought unplanned and relaxed time with family and friends — including a trip to Tyrol Basin for some snowboarding, Ben’s favorite pastime. 

None of Ben’s family or friends knew the priceless memories made would be the last before his untimely death from a motorcycle accident in Japan seven weeks later.

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Airman First Class Evan Cameron, USAF, escorted the body of friend Ben Jackson home from Japan after his death in April of 2018.

And as money came in lieu of flowers, like his obituary prompted, Larry said the family took time to decide how best to honor Ben. It was his older brother, Matt, who suggested helping other soldiers come home while on leave since the military doesn’t usually pay for a trip home and the ticket can be expensive for young soldiers.

Seven weeks after Ben’s death, the family struggled but moved forward with holding Matt’s high school graduation party. It was there where they presented one of their first vouchers for a trip home to one of Matt’s good friends, Ben Kraemer, who had enlisted in the Navy and was headed for boot camp.

“It was an honor for me to have that,” Kraemer said.

Kraemer, a 2018 New Glarus graduate who also knew Ben Jackson, recently made his way home and spent time with family and friends, thanks to the foundation. He said he was happy to be connecting with family and friends as a “civilian.”

The military has changed me for the better, without a doubt.
Ben Kraemer

“I have a stressful job, so it’s nice to be home,” Kraemer said. 

Kraemer enlisted in the Navy and graduated from boot camp Sept. 28, 2018. From there, he was sent to Joint Base San Antonio where he took two months of master arms training. He said he’s passionate about being part of the military and is seeing success while doing what he loves. He made his way to the top of his class and was selected for the Personnel Reliability Program; he was also chosen for the accelerated advanced route after earning Top Gun in his class. 

How to help

Donations to the Ben Jackson Foundation may be made online at

Checks may be sent to: The Ben Jackson Foundation, W5327 Windmill Ridge Road, New Glarus, WI 53574.

To apply for a travel award, visit

For more information, email Larry Jackson at

“The military has changed me for the better, without a doubt,” Kraemer said.

He now takes on specific commands on a naval submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia, and serves as a machine gunner, Humvee driver and crew member. He works in restricted areas serving as waterborne security, and said he doesn’t mind the strict regimen of his mission. 

“I always wanted to get out of New Glarus — so the best thing for me was to enlist,” Kraemer said. 

He was also able to meet up with the Jacksons — they met him at his family cabin in Wautoma. Larry said they enjoy following up with those who receive vouchers. 

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From left, Matthew and Larry Jackson, Ben Kraemer, Jennifer and Emma Jackson are pictured as Kraemer receives a voucher for a trip home while serving in the Navy. Kraemer is a 2018 graduate of New Glarus High School.

Larry is particularly interested in catching up with them since he has past military experience.

“For us, (the visit) was so meaningful, even more so after the fact,” Larry said. 

Ben Jackson

Ben Jackson was known by his family as being quieter than his two siblings, older brother Matthew and younger sister, Emma. The middle child had a mechanical, but creative mind, Larry said, and after a difficult bootcamp he found contentment in working on F-16 jet engines. 

It was snowboarding and close friendships that were making Japan enjoyable for Ben, who had been there since February. Larry said communicating was difficult because of the time difference, but Saturday morning phone calls came often and social media allowed fairly regular interaction with their son. 

We wouldn’t ever want someone to not (go home) because of financial limitations — we just want to make sure they have the encouragement and ability to do it without the stress.
Larry Jackson

Ben Jackson purchased a motorcycle while in Japan, and was practicing on a safety course with a friend when he lost control, hit the throttle and the bike accelerated before hitting a parked forklift nearby. He died April 13, 2018 at age 20. 

The Ben Jackson Foundation

At the Ben Jackson Foundation’s website there’s a photo of Ben walking off of a plane for a Christmas visit and his face lights up as he sees his family there waiting to greet him. It was the inspiration for the Ben Jackson Foundation, and it’s the center around its mission.

“That’s what we want,” Larry said of the photo. 

The nonprofit Ben Jackson Foundation is funded through donations from businesses and individuals, although Larry said they will likely hold more deliberate fundraisers in the future. He said those who receive the vouchers aren’t due to financial necessity — instead, they’re simply given to honor and thank the local men and women who choose to serve their country. 

“We want to help people and provide recognition — it’s gratitude,” Larry said. “We wouldn’t ever want someone to not (go home) because of financial limitations — we just want to make sure they have the encouragement and ability to do it without the stress.”

The foundation has given out 10 of the vouchers for trips home, but has only paid out two of them since they take a while to redeem. They also distribute “challenge coins,” given to honor Ben. 

“We created our own to give to people we’ve supported and people who have supported us, our foundation and Ben,” Larry said.

The list of schools included to receive the vouchers is growing and covers several in Green County. The full list is on the website at www. There, visitors can also donate, learn about Ben, apply for a travel award or submit the name of someone serving in the military who could benefit from the voucher.