The Clemson Tigers football team went into their home game
against Wake Forest Nov. 21, 2015 undefeated and ranked number one in the
nation, but for a few moments before kickoff all attention was
turned away from the field, and onto a dapper 98 year-old gentleman
sitting amid a crowd of news cameras and admirers at the foot of the
Memorial Stadium flagpole, which was being permanently dedicated to
It was fitting that a WWII veteran was in the spotlight
on Clemson's annual Military Appreciation Day – but any time retired
U.S. Army Col. Ben Skardon steps onto the Clemson campus, all eyes
turn to him.
There couldn't be a better name to affix to that
flagpole, said Clemson President James Clements.
November 21, 2015 - WWII veteran and Bataan Death March survivor U.S. Army Col. Ben Skardon (retired) shares a laugh with members of Clemson University's Reserve Officer Training Corps honor guard, the Pershing Rifles, and David Stalnaker after the dedication ceremony for a plaque at the base of the Memorial Stadium flag pole that honors Skardon
for his service and sacrifice. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ken
“Before every home game, more than 80 thousand Tiger fans
turn their attention to this flagpole and the flag it holds,
to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national
anthem. So it is fitting to dedicate this flagpole to
someone who served his country so fearlessly, and who is
such a loyal member of the Clemson family,” said Clements.
“Colonel Skardon is truly a
great American, and one of the greatest individuals in the
history of Clemson University. I can only aspire to serve
others as selflessly as this man has during the course of
After graduating Clemson in 1938, Skardon
commissioned into the Army, going on to become 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 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 April 9, 1942.
He lived through one of
the most infamous ordeals of World War II, the Bataan Death
March, in which thousands of sick, wounded and starving
soldiers were marched 80 miles in the searing heat through
the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those that survived
the march then had to survive the inhumane and brutal
conditions of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.
survived for more than three years in the camps, despite
becoming deathly ill. Two fellow Clemson alumni, Henry
Leitner and Otis Morgan, kept him alive by spoon-feeding him
and eventually trading his gold Clemson ring — which he had
managed to keep hidden — for food. Leitner and Morgan did
not survive the war.
Incredibly, Skardon also
survived the sinking of two unmarked Japanese transport
ships carrying him and other POWs to mainland Japan. Russian
units finally freed him in August 1945.
He went on to
serve in Korea from 1951-52, and retired from the Army at
the rank of colonel in 1962. He joined the Clemson faculty
in the Department of English and was named Alumni Master
Teacher in 1977. He taught at Clemson until his retirement
in 1985 – but that was just another beginning for him.
In recent years, Skardon has become well-known in
military circles as the only survivor who walks in the
annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New
Mexico. He has walked eight-and-a-half miles in the event
every year for the last eight years and plans to make the
pilgrimage for a ninth time next year.
legend has gone beyond generational admiration and become a
part of Clemson's identity – his words literally written in
stone in Memorial Park, adjacent to the stadium:
What will you commit to?
What will you
What will you give to?
What do you believe?
What will you fight for?
Who will you protect?
What will you give a life for?
How will you serve?
“For me personally, he has been a teacher, mentor, and friend for
more than 30 years,” said David Stalnaker, of Dallas, Texas - a 1984
Clemson graduate and former student of Skardon's who with his wife
Eva donated the money to construct the monument. “Probably due to
his Bataan experience, the American flag is very special to Colonel
Skardon – he tears up when he sees the Stars and Stripes going up
into the sky. Thus, we thought the flagpole in Clemson Memorial
Stadium would be a fitting tribute to this exemplary Clemson man. We
hope that everyone will pause for a moment when they see that
beautiful flag flying in the stadium and think about the sacrifices
people like Ben Skardon have made to keep us free.”
looking sharp in a crisp dark jacket under a white sky, and a small
American flag on his breast, steadied himself against the new brick
and bronze tribute to him and gave his perspective on the honor.
“One of the blessings which I have grown to cherish in my 81
years of association with Clemson University is the friendships that
I have established with my Clemson Family,” he said. “The flagpole,
I hold in reverence because it flies our National Banner, which is
symbolic of the thousands whose lives made it sacred. I am
especially indebted to Henry Daniel Leitner '37 and Otis Foster
At football games at Clemson in Death Valley, the
name is ironic for me. ‘Though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death' ... it haunts me. I have trouble singing. Memories
flood my mind. Tears come to my eyes. So many brave men and women
are represented by our flag.
As poet [John Vance] Cheney has
written: ‘Had the eye no tears, the soul would have no rainbow.'”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ken Scar
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