At 99 years old, Clemson resident Ben Skardon refuses to be called a hero, but he will still be honored by “60 Minutes” for its Memorial Day Weekend edition.
“60 Minutes” will feature Skardon 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS in a segment dubbed “A Survivor’s March.”
Skardon was serving in the Army during World War II when he was captured by Japanese troops and forced to march in the Bataan Death March in 1942.
“60 Minutes” called it one of the war’s most notorious atrocities, where the Japanese forced 75,000 Filipino and American prisoners to march 66 miles in 95-degree heat.
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Between 5,000 and 11,000 people ended up dying, and Skardon is one of about 100 still alive, according to Clemson University. Skardon was also the only survivor of the march to walk in the Bataan Memorial Death March 20 in New Mexico. Skardon walked 8.5 miles in 90-degree heat in the memorial march with just a few rest stops, according to “60 Minutes.”
Those who did survive the real marches were sent to Japanese prison camps until they were rescued or died.
Skardon spent more than three years in the camps, surviving bouts of malaria, beriberi and diarrhea with the help of fellow Clemson alumni Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan, the university reported.
Leitner and Morgan kept him alive by spoon-feeding him, eventually trading Skardon’s gold Clemson ring for food. Leitner and Morgan did not survive their time in Japanese imprisonment.
Skardon was rescued in 1945, weighing just 90 pounds.
He continued to serve in the Army, serving also in the Korean War, and retiring as a colonel in 1962.
Skardon attended Clemson when it was an all-male military school and graduated in 1938, according to the university. He then returned to Clemson and taught English until he retired in 1985.
Despite all of this, he told “60 Minutes” reporter Sharyn Alfonsi he does not want to be called a hero.
"Don't even say that word in my presence,” he said to Alfonsi. “I'm not a hero. It's not how much you suffer. That ... doesn't make you a hero.”