Col. Ben Skardon

Col. Ben Skardon

CLEMSON — Clemson University has started an endowment in honor of professor emeritus Ben Skardon, a Clemson alumnus and survivor of the Bataan Death March in World War II.

The Col. Beverly N. “Ben” Skardon Clemson Ring Endowment will help fund the Clemson Ring Ceremony, an event in which Skardon has participated for many years, sharing the story about how his Clemson class ring saved his life.

Skardon graduated from Clemson in 1938 and enlisted in the military. He was in the Philippines when the United States entered World War II. In 1942, he was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese army and is a survivor of what now is known as the Bataan Death March.

Though he lost most of his possessions upon capture, he managed to hold onto his Clemson ring, which he kept hidden. Two of his fellow Clemson alumni – Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan – were held with him, and they took care of Skardon when he fell ill with a number of diseases, including beriberi, malaria, diarrhea and an eye infection. Knowing his friend was dying and needed nourishment, Morgan offered to trade Skardon’s gold Clemson ring for food, which sustained Skardon and helped bring him back to health. He survived until the Japanese surrendered and the prisoners were freed. Leitner and Morgan, unfortunately, did not survive the war.

After returning from the war, Skardon eventually joined the Clemson faculty, teaching English for many years. One of his students would later become president of Clemson University: James F. Barker. Barker often has said that Skardon was among his favorite professors.

“Ben’s love of literature and love of life were inspirational, especially after we learned his personal story as a survivor of the Bataan Death March,” said Barker. “Ben endured unspeakable hardships. He was close to death many times. Yet he chose to live the rest of his life without bitterness. He chose to remember the love and support and sacrifice of his fellow prisoners, some of them also Clemson graduates, instead of the brutality of his captors. Ben’s great humanity infused his lessons with deep meaning. I still carry those lessons with me today.”

For years, Skardon has shared his remarkable story with Clemson seniors at the ring ceremony, which takes place twice a year. The 96-year-old says this semester’s ring ceremony may be his last, but his story will continue to be shared with Clemson seniors through a video.

This endowment is being established as part of the university’s The Will to Lead $1 billion capital campaign to support students and faculty.

Donations to the Skardon Clemson Ring Endowment can be made online, by calling the Clemson Fund at 864-656-5896 or by check made payable to the Clemson Fund. Checks can be mailed to: Clemson Fund, PO Box 1889, Clemson, SC 29633. Note for: Col. Beverly N. “Ben” Skardon Clemson Ring Endowment.