’60 Minutes’ to feature Clemson alumnus Ben Skardon this Sunday
CLEMSON — Clemson University alumnus and professor emeritus Col. (Ret) Ben Skardon, a World War II hero and survivor of the Bataan Death March, will be featured on the CBS news program “60 Minutes” this Sunday.
Skardon was 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 led his troops through some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the war, earning two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars for valor in combat, as well as a Purple Heart during the first four months of the war — an incredible array of awards for any one soldier.
On April 9, 1942, 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. Skardon and his fellow POWs were marched 80 miles north by their captors in one of the most notorious war crimes in history: The Bataan Death March.
Skardon survived the march only to suffer three years in Japanese prisoner of war camps. He survived despite becoming deathly ill with malaria, beriberi, diarrhea and other ailments. Two fellow Clemson alumni, Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan, kept him alive by spoon-feeding him and eventually by trading his gold Clemson ring — which he had managed to keep hidden — for food.
Incredibly, as the tide of the war was turning against his captors, Skardon miraculously survived the sinking of two unmarked Japanese transport ships trying to steal him and other POWs away to mainland Japan, including the infamous sinking of the Oryoku Maru.
Skardon is an alumnus of Clemson University, which he attended as a cadet from 1935 to 1938 when it was an all-male military school. He returned to Clemson after the war and became an English professor, was named an Alumni Master Teacher in 1977 and taught until his retirement in 1985.
In 2006, at the age of 88, Skardon managed to add yet another remarkable chapter to his life when he became the only survivor to walk in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. He walked six miles, and has returned and walked 8.5 miles every year since but one. This year, at the age of 99, he completed it for the 10th time.
“60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, producer Draggan Mihailovich and their team of cameramen and sound engineers followed Skardon on his walk last year and interviewed him in his home and at significant places on the Clemson campus.
The story first aired last year on “60 Minutes Sports” on the Showtime cable network. This is the first time Showtime has allowed CBS to replay a “60 Minutes Sports” segment on the popular Sunday night show — the oldest and most-watched news program on television — in less than their normally contracted three-year waiting period.