Retired colonel and survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March dead at 104

Retired Col. Ben Skardon, a former English professor at Clemson and survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March passed away this week at the age of 104. 

According to the American Military Times  Skardon died at his home in Clemson after being proceeded in death by his wife, Sara “Betsy” Golden. The two were married for 71 years before her death in 2019.

Skardon was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army after his graduation in 1938 from the then-all-male military Clemson College.

“In 1942, Skardon and some 75,000 other American and Filipino troops were forced to march 65 miles to prison camps in what has become known as the Bataan Death March,” AMT reported. “It was hot, and the Japanese tortured their captives. Thousands died.”

Skardon and 8,000 others were held at Cabanatuan where he and his fellow prisoners suffered from disease, hunger, and beatings that caused the deaths of around 2,600 prisoners. 

“The Japanese told us we were captives, not prisoners of war, and they’d treat us any way they wanted to,” Skardon told Clemson World magazine. “So, we were treated like animals — worse than animals. Skardon fell deathly ill with malaria, beriberi and diarrhea,” the magazine said.

“Two fellow Clemson alumni, Henry Leitner ’37 and Otis Morgan ’38, kept him alive by spoon-feeding him, massaging his feet, and carrying him in their arms to and from the latrine. But it was Skardon’s gold Clemson Ring — which he had managed to keep hidden — that saved his life.”

In his account, Skardon said that Morgan traded the ring for food which saved Skardon’s life, and it’s a story that was told at every Clemson Ring Ceremony.

Before his time in the military ended he was awarded two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and the Purple Heart and served in Korea before his retirement in 1962 and more recently received an honorary promotion to the rank of brigadier general, according to U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan.