CLEMSON — Clemson University will celebrate the 100th birthday of alumnus and professor emeritus Col. Ben Skardon on Friday, Aug. 11. Skardon reached one century of life July 14.
A private lunch will be held at noon in which Skardon, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, will be presented with several local, state and national honors. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., are scheduled to be there.
The public is invited to a celebration at 4 p.m. on Williamson Road in front of Memorial Stadium, between gates 1 and 5. Guests can sign birthday cards, briefly greet Skardon and have refreshments.
A short ceremony, emceed by Clemson Alumni Association President Col. Sandy Edge, will begin at 4:30. Edge will recap the honors presented to Skardon earlier in the day and direct several more presentations, followed by a musical tribute.
Well-wishers will be able to tour several meaningful sites in the stadium and in Memorial Park, including the Ben Skardon Flag Pole, the Scroll of Honor and the Memorial Park Reflection Point. Displays of Skardon’s honors and awards, as well some of his personal and biographical memorabilia, will be available for viewing.
In lieu of gifts, people are encouraged to donate to the Col. Beverly N. “Ben” Skardon, ’38 Clemson Corps Endowment.
The event will end at 6 p.m.
After graduating from Clemson 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 with tens of thousands of his brothers-in-arms when American troops in that area of operation were forced to surrender to the Japanese April 9, 1942.
He lived through one of the most infamous ordeals of World War II, the Bataan Death March, in which thousands of sick, wounded and starving soldiers were marched 80 miles in the searing heat through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived the march then had to survive the inhumane and brutal conditions of prisoner-of-war camps.
Skardon survived for more than three years in the 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.
Incredibly, Skardon also survived the sinking of two unmarked Japanese transport ships carrying him and other POWs to mainland Japan. Russian units finally freed him in August 1945.
He went on to serve in Korea in 1951-52 and retired from the Army at the rank of colonel in 1962. He joined the Clemson faculty in the English department and was named Alumni Master Teacher in 1977. He taught at Clemson until his retirement in 1985.
More recently, Skardon has become famous for being the only survivor of the Bataan Death March who walks in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. He walks 8.5 miles through the desert to honor soldiers who didn’t return from the war.
This year he did it for the 11th time at the age of 99. The CBS news program “60 Minutes” aired a piece about Skardon this past Memorial Day weekend.