Retired U.S. Army Col. Beverly “Ben” Skardon is America’s national treasure. At the age of 103, the survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March is still going strong.
Skardon, suffering from malaria, survived the brutal 65-mile march in 95-degree heat while fellow soldiers around him were being bayoneted by the Japanese. He would go on to survive being transported in hellish conditions in the cargo hulls of two Japanese ships, where only 25% of the prisoners survived.
Skardon would also endure inhumane treatment for over three years in Japanese prisoner of war camps.
As Skardon remembers, “The Japanese told us we were captives, not prisoners of war, and they’d treat us any way they wanted to. So, we were treated like animals — worse than animals.”
At the end of the war, the 28-year-old Army captain and recipient of two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars for valor, and a Purple Heart, weighed only 90 pounds when liberated by the Russian Army.
Following World War II, Skardon would continue to lead and inspire. After serving in the Korean War and in Germany, he eventually retired from the Army as a colonel in 1962.
He went on to teach English at his beloved Clemson University for almost 20 years. At Clemson, he touched the lives of countless students when, during Clemson’s Annual Ring Ceremony, he would tell the story of how his alumni ring saved his life during imprisonment.
Skardon managed to keep his gold ring hidden from the Japanese. Eventually his buddies, fellow Clemson alumni and POWs, traded it in exchange for food, helping him to survive the Japanese camps after being deprived of food, water and medicine.
His continued participation in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range has inspired many and even led to his story being featured on CBS’s "60 Minutes."
Even this year, when the event was a “Virtual Memorial March,” he walked one mile a day for eight days in his neighborhood.
Earlier this year, U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan, pursuant to federal statute, requested that the Secretary of the Army recall Col. Skardon to active duty for one day and receive an honorary promotion to the rank of General. It is currently under consideration at the Pentagon.
As Congressman Duncan puts it, “Colonel 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.”
Congressman Duncan is right, and the Secretary of the Army and Pentagon leadership should move swiftly in promoting Col.Skardon to the honorary rank of general.
This is a time when America needs heroes — real American heroes. Education is a national security issue and the youth of our nation need to know the story of the Ben Skardons of America, who scarified so much to give us the freedom we enjoy today.
The great journalist Elmer Davis, who served as director of U.S. Office of War Information during World War II said, “This will remain the land of the free so long as it is the home of the brave.”
103-year-old Col. Ben Skardon’s entire life reminds us that America is still the home of the brave. The secretary of the Army and the Department of Defense should honor him and our nation by promoting Col. Skardon to general.
Van Hipp is Chairman of American Defense International, Inc. He is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army and author of “The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It.” He is the 2018 recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II September 11 Garden Leadership Award for National Security. Read Van Hipp's Reports — More Here.
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