For Love of Country, and more

As the April anniversary of the 1942 fall of Bataan approaches, commemorations of the solemn event and remembrance are taking place.

On 22 March 2015, 97-year old Bataan survivor Col. Beverly N. (Ben) Skardon, US Army (Retired) marched in a reprise of his Bataan Death March, completing an 8.5 mile length on a trail in the Southwestern desert in what is known as the Bataan Memorial Death March on the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA.

Bataan survivor Col. Ben Skardon, US Army (Retired) crosses the finish line of his 8.5 mile march in the Bataan Memorial Death March of March, 2015 (Courtesy USMC Life)

Bataan survivor Col. Ben Skardon, US Army (Retired) crosses the finish line of his 8.5 mile march in the Bataan Memorial Death March of March, 2015 (Courtesy USMC Life)

In the Bataan Campaign, Skardon was a young officer in command of Company A of the 92nd Infantry Regiment (Philippine Army). The 92nd Infantry were recruited from the Visayas part of the central Philippines, including the islands of Samar, Negros, Panay, Leyte, Cebu and smaller islands. Commanded by Col. John H. Rodman, these soldiers mostly spoke Hurai-Hurai or Cebuano, though Filipino officers from Luzon spoke Tagalog, so communication was a challenge.

The 92nd, part of the 91st Infantry Division (PA) reached Luzon six days after the war started, and experienced a bombing attack as it disembarked in Manila. The regiment was subsequently deployed in the I Corps area on the west side of Bataan during the campaign, and was involved in hard battles in January and February, 1942, when the Japanese infiltrated the Mauban Line and established a roadblock on the West Road, and in the Battle of the Pockets.

Skardon started out with 120 men in his command, and ended in April, 1942, with 60 men left. He himself was in hospital for malaria when the surrender came, but was ambulatory and forced to make the Death March.

He survived the deadly march and brutal years in Imperial Japan’s captivity, including the devastating “friendly” air attacks sinking two of the “hell ships” (the Oryoko Maru in Subic Bay and another Japanese freighter in Takao, Formosa) he was aboard taking him and hundreds of other POW’s from the Philippines to Northeast Asia in the fall of 1944.

The Japanese transport ship Oryoku Maru seen here under attack by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft at Olongapo, Luzon, December 14–15, 1944.  The attackers did not know that there were 1,620 POW's aboard the vessel (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The Japanese transport ship Oryoku Maru seen here under attack by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft at Olongapo, Luzon, December 14–15, 1944. The attackers did not know that there were 1,620 POW’s aboard the vessel (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Of the 1,600 POW’s who started this journey in December, 1944, only some 400 made it alive to Japan when the third ship they were taken on finally reached Japan – the tortured men’s journey took 45 days! When the war ended, he was in Manchuria.

Nearly 70 years since the end of the war, Skardon commemorated the 80-mile long Death March of 1942 in the New Mexico desert, for the eighth time! More than 6,000 marchers made the trek last year. A Greenville, South Carolina paper described the Colonel’s motivation:
“People ask, why do I do it?” Skardon said in an interview at his home in a quiet, wooded neighborhood in Clemson. “I have to. I feel connected out there.”

Col. Ben Skardon and members of "Ben's Brigade" march in the 2015 Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.  (Courtesy DoD)

Col. Ben Skardon and members of “Ben’s Brigade” march in the 2015 Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. (Courtesy DoD)

And also these thoughtful comments quoted from the same article:

“During periods of silence as he makes the walk, his mind goes back to that time so many years ago across the Pacific. In the desert air, memories of the two buddies who cared for him while he was close to death flood his heart.”

“It’s not anger or bitterness that keeps him going. He has made peace with the Japanese people. It’s overflowing devotion. It’s love of country, love of those he served with, and appreciation for little acts of kindness that now seem as big as the desert sky.”

Bataan survivor Col. Ben Skardon, US Army (Retired) reflects on the day of his participation in the 2015 Bataan Memorial Death March.  (Courtesy DoD)

Bataan survivor Col. Ben Skardon, US Army (Retired) reflects at Mile Marker 6 on the day of his participation in the 2015 Bataan Memorial Death March. (Courtesy DoD)

On this 2015 anniversary of the fall of Bataan 73 years ago, let us remember, like Col. Skardon, our brave comrades, patriots who fought for freedom at the start of the Pacific War. However we might commemorate it let us all make some effort to remember those who sacrificed their all in the battle against Japanese militarism in World War II.  We owe them a debt of gratitude, and more.
References

Bryant, Hallman Bell, “Understanding A Separate Peace: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents,” Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002

Barnett, Ron, “Clemson man relives Bataan Death March,” Greeneville News, 23 March 2015, at: http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/local/pickens-county/2015/03/22/clemson-man-relives-bataan-death-march/25150259/

“South Carolina living legend, 97, to walk in Bataan Memorial Death march,” USMC Life, at: http://usmclife.com/2015/03/south-carolina-living-legend-97-to-walk-in-bataan-memorial-death-march/

Whitman, John W., “Bataan: Our Last Ditch.” Hippocrene Books, New York, 1990

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