Reflections on Memorial Day 2022


Written by Mary Brown, Board of Directors, Ben Jackson Foundation

Four years ago, my cousin’s son, Ben Jackson, came home for a visit. Ben was just 20 years old and had recently completed basic training in the United States Air Force. His first permanent duty station at Misawa Air Base in Japan was a long way from his hometown of New Glarus, Wisconsin. Ben’s trip home was an exciting surprise for his mother, Jen, arranged with travel support from his dad, Larry. During this precious time with family, Ben shared how envious his friends at the base were of him. Most of them had been away from home for many months but told Ben they could never afford a trip from Japan back to the States so early in their military careers. Like Ben, they also missed home and those they loved.

Ben’s mom and dad, brother and sister could never have imagined this trip from Japan would be the last time they would see him. Tragically, just a few weeks later, Ben was killed in a freak accident on the Misawa Air Base. When gifts and memorials began to pour in to honor Ben’s life, his own words echoed in the hearts and minds of his family. They quickly launched the Ben Jackson Foundation with the sole purpose of recognizing the sacrifice newly enlisted members of the military have chosen to make and providing financial support to help them visit home from their first permanent duty station.

In the beginning, the Foundation focused on helping those serving in the military with local roots in Wisconsin. It didn’t take long, however, for Larry and Jen to realize there were newly enlisted young people all across the country who longed to travel home. A small group of volunteers joined together with the Jacksons to begin fundraising so more awards could be shared.

To date, due to the generosity of many who have invested in the fund, the Ben Jackson Foundation has given 260 “Ticket Home” awards totaling $185,000. This is a great accomplishment and yet represents only a small fraction of the hundreds of applications received each month from newly enlisted military personnel serving around the globe. Their stories are poignant:

“My grandmother is dying and I would like to see her before she leaves this earth, but I can’t afford to buy a plane ticket right now.”

“I haven’t been home in over two years because of COVID. So much has changed and I feel more depression and anxiety. Being with family and friends would help so much.”

“My parents are moving out of the home I grew up in and I’d like to see it one more time before they leave. All of the things I had as a kid are still there. It’s been my home base.”

“It would make me so happy if I could just be with my family. I miss them.”

Spending time with family and friends has many known benefits. It helps build confidence, deepens emotional bonds, improves mental health and provides the opportunity to make memories built on fun, laughter and shared experiences. The pandemic, with its long stretches of social isolation, has been especially challenging for those serving in our military who want to come home and see their loved ones. It’s also been hard on their families.

Recently, the mother of a Ben Jackson travel award recipient sent this note:

“My son, Micah, received an award to help pay for travel expenses from Japan. I want to extend my gratitude and share a few things with you! Micah left for basic training in July of 2020 from Long Island, NY, during the height of the lock down. Unfortunately, I could not see him graduate due to the restrictions. He went right on to tech school in Texas for the next ten weeks. I was so curious to know what his first duty station would be…maybe Florida, Texas or South Carolina. Then he was assigned to Japan! What an incredible opportunity and adventure! As much as I knew I would miss him, I was excited for him to start his career across the world. This is not to say I wasn’t crying inside. Micah is incredibly grateful that he received a travel award to come home and see me. He was also very touched by your story. Your Foundation is making a huge impact on the lives of airmen and women and their families. I’m sure your son is watching over and is proud of you! Thank you so much!”

Ben Jackson Foundation travel awards range from $500 to $1,000, depending upon the service member is travelling domestically or internationally. For the 260 travel award recipients thus far, a trip home has been the gift of a lifetime in bringing much needed hope and encouragement to a young person dedicating their life to the military.

Memorial Day weekend 2022 is upon us. In 2018 after Ben died, I wrote about our first Memorial Day without him. Each year this is a time to remember those who sacrificed their lives while protecting the lives of others. We bring flags to their graves, plant flowers and share stories to remember and honor them. This year, I will also be making a gift to the living who are serving in our nation’s military today by investing in a Ticket Home award to support the Ben Jackson Foundation. I have no doubt those who have gone before us in military service would implore all of us to support those who are serving today. And I agree with Micah’s mom that our beloved Ben is looking down on us and smiling because his family continues to honor him in this way. Ben Jackson’s legacy lives on and he will always be with us.




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