A school ring saved his life.
Every year at this time, thousands of people come out to the New Mexico desert at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) to run a half or full marathon. Participants can choose to do the event with a 35-pound pack. This is no ordinary race. It is a tradition for many who have a connection to the Bataan Death March which took place in the Philippines during World War II.
Col. Ben Skardon is a survivor of the Bataan Death March. Yesterday, at the age of 99, Skardon spoke about his experiences at Bataan during WWII to a standing room only crowd in a WSMR theatre. He stood at the podium and read his eloquent words then responded to questions with a sharp intellect and with details that seemed like it was just yesterday when the events happened.
While in the prisoner of war camp, Skardon found two other American soldiers who were from his alma mater—Clemson University. The three friends stuck together having their school as a common bond. Skardon kept his Clemson ring hidden from his captors in places like his socks.
The Bataan Death March was 69 miles in the grueling heat with many American and Filipino casualties. Along with yellow puss discharge in his eyes that sealed them shut, Skardon was suffering from beriberi, malaria, and diarrhea. When it looked like death was imminent, his Clemson brothers sold his university ring to buy a chicken, cooked it, and fed it to Skardon. He described how every part of the chicken was consumed leaving only white bones because even the marrow had been sucked out. The nourishment he got from the chicken gave him enough fuel to finish the march. Skardon’s Clemson brothers did not make it home from the war. When Skardon came home he got married, started a family, and became a professor at Clemson University.
If you are out on the course today you will notice his posse because they are the ones with the bright orange shirts that say, “Ben’s Brigade.” Col. Skardon plans to walk 8 and a half miles, like he has done in recent years, with friends and family who have come to support him.
Col. Skardon attributes family and faith for getting him through difficult times. In Latin, the words alma mater mean “nourishing mother.” The people, places, and experiences from school can be an impactful and enduring part of our lives. Skardon’s school ring is so much more than a piece of jewelry. The memory of his ring is a symbol of love.
Race website: http://bataanmarch.com/
Further reading on the Bataan Death March by New Mexico resident Hampton Sides:
Sides, H. (2001). Ghost soldiers: The forgotten epic story of World War II’s most dramatic mission. New York: Random House.
YouTube video: “Col. Ben Skardon’s Amazing Ring Story”