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Ring Stories: Remembering Bataan

Ben Skardon ’38 survived the Bataan Death March of WWII thanks to his Clemson ring. After surrendering to the Japanese at the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines, tens of thousands of U.S.-Filipino forces were forced on a 65-mile march from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell. Despite surviving the march, Skardon became deathly ill, suffering severe malnutrition, malaria, beriberi and other ailments. Deprived of food, water and medicine, Skardon was cared for by his friends and fellow Clemson grads, Henry Leitner ’37 and Otis Morgan ’38, who saved Skardon’s life by trading his hidden Clemson ring for food and spoon feeding him to help him regain his strength. Sadly, Leitner and Morgan would not survive.

On March 25, 76 years later, 100-year-old Skardon marched in the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico. He is the only survivor of the historical event who still participates. Surrounded by Clemson alumni and other supporters, who dubbed themselves “Ben’s Brigade,” Skardon completed nearly seven miles in the desert in honor of his lost brothers-in-arms. Alumni of the group put up their Clemson rings in solidarity with Skardon, pictured above.

To learn more about Skardon’s ring story, go to alumni.clemson.edu/personal-sacrifice/.

Clemson dedicates Memorial Stadium flagpole to Skardon

Ben Skardon with President Clements and Army ROTC cadets

Ben Skardon with President Clements and Army ROTC cadets

On Military Appreciation Day, Col. Ben Skardon, a dapper 98-year-old World War II veteran, sat amid a crowd of news media and admirers at the foot of the Memorial Stadium flagpole, which was being permanently dedicated to him.

After graduating in 1938, Skardon was commissioned into the Army, going on to become the commander of Company A of the 92nd Infantry Regiment PA (Philippine Army), a battalion of Filipino Army recruits on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. He became a prisoner of war and lived through one of the most infamous ordeals of World War II, the Bataan Death March.

Skardon survived for more than three years in prisoner-of-war camps, despite becoming deathly ill. Two fellow Clemson alumni, Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan, kept him alive by spoon-feeding him and eventually trading his gold Clemson ring — which he had managed to keep hidden — for food. Leitner and Morgan did not survive the war.

He served in Korea in 1951-52 and retired as a colonel from the Army in 1962. He joined the Clemson English faculty and was named Alumni Master Teacher in 1977. He taught until his retirement in 1985.

In recent years, Skardon has become well known in military circles as the only survivor who walks in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico. He has walked 8.5 miles in the event for the last nine years.

“For me personally, he has been a teacher, mentor and friend for more than 30 years,” said Clemson alumnus David Stalnaker of Dallas, Texas. Stalnaker and his wife, Eva, donated the money to erect the honorary flagpole. “Probably due to his Bataan experience, the American flag is very special to Col. Skardon. He tears up when he sees the Stars and Stripes going up into the sky. Thus, we thought the flagpole in Clemson Memorial Stadium would be a fitting tribute to this exemplary Clemson man. We hope that everyone will pause for a moment when they see that beautiful flag flying in the stadium and think about the sacrifices people like Ben Skardon have made to keep us free.”

Skardon gave his perspective on the honor. “One of the blessings which I have grown to cherish in my 81 years of association with Clemson University is the friendships that I have established with my Clemson family,” he said. “The flagpole I hold in reverence because it flies our national banner, which is symbolic of the thousands whose lives made it sacred. I am especially indebted to Henry Daniel Leitner and Otis Foster Morgan.

“At football games at Clemson in Death Valley, the name is ironic for me. Memories flood my mind. Tears come to my eyes. So many brave men and women are represented by our flag.”

 

Col. Skardon’s 9th year in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March

Retired U.S. Army Col. Ben Skardon, 98, recently completed a more than eight-mile walk in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 20, 2016. Skardon is the only survivor who walks in the memorial march and this is the ninth year in a row he has done it.