Col. Ben Skardon, Oldest Bataan Death March Survivor, Dies at 104.

Col. Ben Skardon received many accolades in his 104 years. Just two days before his death at 104, he was given an honorary rank of Brigadier General. But as the oldest living Bataan Death March survivor, he had many stories to tell, one of which was how his Clemson Class ring saved his life while a prisoner of the Japanese.

He was given the honorary rank of Brig Gen two days before he died.

Story continues below:

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Ben Skardon (birth name Beverly Skardon) joined the Army in 1938 just after graduation from Clemson University, and was Commissioned as an Army Infantry Officer. He became the Commander of Company A of the 92nd Infantry Regiment on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philppines. (WeAreTheMighty) But eventually the American unit was forced to surrender in 1942 to become prisoners of the brutal Japanese. They were forced to march 65 miles in the sweltering heat of the Philippines to a prison camp, a situation that came to be known as the Bataan Death March. 10,000 troops did not live through the march.

American POWs carry their fallen comrades after the Bataan Death March at Camp O’Donnell – Public domain

Ben Skardon came down with malaria, and was close to death. Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan, two fellow Clemson classmates, spoon-fed him and used his hidden gold Clemson ring to bargain for food. They did not survive the war, but Skardon did.

The Clemson ring that saved his life – Screenshot via WYFF

When the Japanese moved the prisoners to the Japanese mainland, the unmarked ship they were in sank. Skardon survived that as well. Three years after his capture, Skardon was freed by the Soviets in 1945. He weighed just 90 pounds at the time.

Skardon remained in the Army after the war, and served in Korea where he was promoted to the rank of Colonel. He retired from the Army in 1962. He earned two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars with “V” device and a Purple Heart during his service. After 23 years of dedicated service, he joined Clemson University as a Professor of English and remained there until 1985. His wife of 71 years passed away in 2019. Among his other awards were the Order of the Palmetto, a Congressional Gold Medal, the Clemson Medallion, the Alumni Distinguished Service Award, and the Alumni Master Teacher Award.

Ben Skardon walked with others several times since 2006 in the memorial march dedicated to the survivors of the Bataan Death March. He spoke often to others about the history that he survived. He was described by Clemson President Jim Clements as “selfless, loyal and kind.”

In 2006, at the age of 88, Skardon became the only Bataan Death March survivor to walk in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. He walked over eight miles in his first event and returned to walk 12 more times. Skardon walked his last Memorial March at the age of 101. In 2020, the Memorial March was cancelled. However, Clemson students, alumni, and veterans organized the Clemson 8 Challenge to honor the eight Clemson alumni who survived the Death March in 1942 and carry on Skardon’s mission of honoring the men who made the ultimate sacrifice. At the age of 103, Skardon walked more than three miles for the event.

Miguel Ortiz at WeAreTheMighty
Screenshot: Skardon (center, white shirt) covered 8.5 miles of the Bataan Memorial Death March in his best time of 4 hours, 2 minutes in 2016 (Clemson University)

Col. Ben Skardon’s life of perseverance and selfless leadership exemplifies what it means to not only be a U.S. soldier but a true American hero. Col. Skardon’s service and sacrifice to the United States deserve recognition because he went above and beyond the call of duty to defend our freedoms. I admire Skardon’s love for his country displayed in what all he endured for our nation after serving in both World War II and the Korean War, surviving prisoner of war camps and the Bataan Death March. He is a national treasure and epitomizes what it truly means to be an American hero. We cannot thank him enough.”

Rep Jeff Duncan, R- SC

R.I.P. General Ben Skardon, thank you for serving America, and being an inspiration to others.

*****

Featured screenshot of Col Skardon as a young man.

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