CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) – Clemson University announced the passing of Beverly ‘Ben’ Skardon Monday at the age of 104.
Skardon died days after being informed of the approval of his honorary promotion to the rank of Brigadier General, Clemson officials said.
Following his graduation from Clemson in 1938, he served in World War II as a commander.
Through leading his troops through fierce fighting, Skardon earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star with “V” device, and a Purple Heart during the first four months of the war.
On April 9, 1942, he became a prisoner of war when American troops were forced to surrender to the Japanese. He then endured The Bataan Death March.
“Everyone knows about the death march and it was awful. One of the worst atrocities of World War II, but what a lot of people forget is the death march was just the beginning of what those men went through,” said Ken Scar, a writer and photographer at Clemson University. “They then had to survive three years in prisoner of wars camps, where the conditions were, calling them inhumane is an understatement, but Ben survived those three years,” Scar said.
Scar said Skardon has several near-death experiences as a prisoner of war, like being on ships that were bombed and sinking.
“The ships were unmarked, American bombers, our own planes bombed those ships. They didn’t know there were thousands of American soldiers on them and sank those ships. So Ben was on one of those ships that was bombed, and it sank and he escaped and swam to shore,” Scar said. “After everything else he’d endured, you know, as a prisoner of war, he then had to survive those ships. He did survive and he came home,” Scar said.
Skardon survived the march and more than three years as a POW, despite becoming deathly ill. Two fellow Clemson alumni kept him alive by spoon-feeding him and eventually trading his gold Clemson ring — which he had managed to keep hidden — for food.
One Clemson ROTC student who knew Skardon, said this story inspired her.
“The will and strength that he exuded was incredible and to know all of what he went through and some people don’t even experience a small portion of that, but all of what he was able to go through in surviving the Bataan Death March and all of his years as a prisoner were as incredible and he still lived to be 104 years old. So he went through all of that and his perseverance is incredible, and his story about the Clemson ring is actually why I bought mine because it was just such an incredible story,” said Jessie Katz, Member of Clemson University Airforce ROTC. “I think he truly embodies what it means to be a soldier and that you really can get through anything if you put your mind through it. His body was physically broken down, but he was still able to make it through everything, and I think that strength is something that I one day hope to be able to get to,” Katz said.
In 1964 he returned to his alma mater, joining the Clemson faculty in the Department of English, where he taught for more than 20 years until his retirement in 1985.
Among his numerous accolades, Skardon received the Clemson Medallion, the Alumni Distinguished Service Award, the Alumni Master Teacher Award, the Order of the Palmetto, and a Congressional Gold Medal.
Scar, a combat veteran, was able to build a relationship with Skardon years ago.
“It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life,” Scar said. “That through my position here at Clemson, I’ve been able to help tell his story to the world,” Scar said. “Ben liked me right away because I was a soldier. So, he and I had that instant connection that soldiers have. So he allowed me into his life. I think that was a big reason why he trusted me.
“Ben Skardon, lived to serve, so that others may live and serve. He lived his life to serve others. Whether that was as a soldier, or as a teacher, or these last few years, as a role model for millions of people all over the world,” Scar said. “Every time you got to spend a minute with him, was a blessing because he lifted up everyone that was around him, and you never left being with Ben in a bad mood. He always put you in a better mood because he was just so good natured, and he had such a positive outlook on life, even after everything that he went through,” Scar said.
Scar said he saw Skardon the day he was told about his new honorary title.
“Even the last time I saw him, I saw him Thursday night in the hospice and I walked in the room, and he smiled and he made us laugh. We made him laugh. He was the same amazing Ben until the end, and I try to live my life like him. I mean that’s kind of what he taught me is, stay positive, serve others, and he’s the ultimate American survivor man. I’m going to miss him,” Scar said. “As an American, I am so thankful for his service and as a soldier and combat veteran, I am in awe of him. I am in awe of him.”
Ben Skardon was the epitome of what it means to be a Clemson Tiger. He was selfless, loyal and kind, and he lived a life of service, both during his military career and his tenure as a professor in our Department of English. Beth and I are blessed to have had him as a dear friend, and we will miss him greatly. We are keeping his family and friends in our thoughts and prayers.President Jim Clements
U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan, spoke about General Skardon on the House floor on Tuesday afternoon.
“Ladies and gentlemen I rise today to commend and recognize a World War II and Korean War veteran, Ben Skardon, who was notified last week that he was set to receive the honorary promotion of of the rank of Brigadier General. Conversations between my office and the Department of Army, the Department of Defense, Congress and the family of Colonel Skardon, the Army and the DOD have concurred with my recommendation in an extremely rare circumstance approved Colonel Skardon’s promotion to the rank of Brigadier General. Now very few American soldiers ever receive this honor in this manner. It’s well deserved on behalf of Colonel Skardon for his brave military service to our country,” said Congressman Duncan.
“Working to secure his honorary promotion Brigadier General, is one of the most humbling acts that I’ve undertaken during my time in Congress, and I have no doubt that divine intervention was responsible for ensuring that he learned of this great honor that our country bestowed upon him before his passing. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, and the Clemson community during this time. He’ll be deeply missed but he will never be forgotten,” Congressman Duncan said.
To learn more about Skardon, read Clemson University’s article.