Bataan Death March Update

Posted: April 8, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Nearly 7,000 participated in a march at White Sands Missile Range on 27 MAR to honor the 70th anniversary of the Bataan Memorial Death March. The special ceremony also drew more than a dozen survivors. The Bataan Memorial Death March honors the World War II Soldiers who suffered during the April 1942 march after thousands of American and Filipino service members surrendered to Japanese forces. Many died during the 80-mile march or became prisoners of war. Around 1,800 New Mexico National Guard members endured the march. It was the fourth year in a row, 93-year-old Bataan survivor, retired Col. Ben Skardon joined the march. "I started when I was 89 years old," Skardon said with a chuckle. Skardon was one of the now-diminishing number of American and Filipino soldiers who endured a nine-day, 80-mile march after having been surrendered to the Japanese during World War II in 1942. Marchers would be bayoneted if they fell too far behind, stopped to relieve themselves or try to take a swig of water from the nearest springs.
Retired Col. Ben Skardon Archival photo of U.S. prisoners
"The Bataan Death March was just the beginning; it got worse from there," Skardon said during a speech he gave at the WSMR's Post Theater the day before the march. Of the more than 70,000 that were forced to march, 54,000 made it to the camp sites alive. Two years after the initial enslavement and camp torture, the prisoners were loaded onto ships, 1,000 at a time, in a space only suitable for a fourth of that number. Some ships were torpedoed by the U.S. military due to the ships being unmarked. Survivors from the first attack received treatment and were loaded onto a second ship, which was once again attacked by U.S. Navy divers. A third ship finally took the prisoners to their destination of Mojii, Japan. Skardon recalls the account as the "47 days of horrendous inhumanity." Skardon said he weighed 90 pounds at that time. "I learned how easy it is to die when you lose the will to live," Skardon said.
Skardon was 24 years old and assigned to the 92nd Infantry Regiment at the time. He attributes his survival to two fellow soldiers and Clemson graduates, Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan who cared for him when he fell ill. Before they were forced to march, Skardon said he hid away a can of condensed milk and his Clemson ring in a piece of cloth. He said he would take sips of the milk during the march and drink it between his teeth. When he became ill, the soldiers who took care of him advised him to exchange his gold ring for food. The ring was exchanged for a chicken and a can of ham. The soldiers cooked and hand-fed him the soup and he soon regained his strength. "I don't have any ax to grind whatsoever. It's really an emotional thing it's a tribute," Skardon said. During the march his nephew, Hooper Skardon, carried both a can of condensed milk and a Clemson University ring, a replacement. Hooper said it was a struggle to get the condensed can of milk through the South Carolina airport security. "We had to go all the way to the top security at the airport. They wouldn't let us go until they advised me to say we needed it for medicinal purposes," Hooper said. [Source: Associated Press article 26 Mar 2012 ++]

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