Skardon gets Congressional Gold Medal | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | March 29, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: March 28, 2018 at 9:52 am
Former Walterboro resident Ben Skardon traveled from the rolling hills of Clemson to the desert sands of New Mexico over the weekend.
Skardon, a 100-year-old survivor of the Bataan Death March and revered alumnus and professor emeritus of Clemson University, was at the White Sands Missile Range to be presented a Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal.
The presentation was made as part of the annual Bataan Memorial Death March observance. Skardon has been to 12 of the observances, which honor those who didn’t return from the war.
The Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom are the highest civilian awards in the United States.
More than 250,000 Filipinos fought for the United States in the Pacific in World War II. On Dec 14, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act. The Congressional Gold Medal was formally awarded to Filipino, Filipino-American and American soldiers who served under the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East from July 26, 1941, to Dec. 31, 1946. Most of the soldiers who served during this period fought and were captured at Bataan and Corregidor.
Skardon, a colonel in the U.S. Army, was 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.
“I am honored to receive this award in the memory of the Filipino soldiers that I commanded,” Skardon said in a Clemson University press release. “These soldiers were loyal and dedicated under the stress of close combat. I am delighted they are finally receiving the respect and recognition they deserve.”
Skardon, the press release said, led his troops through some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the war, earning two Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars for valor in combat, as well as a Purple Heart during the first four months of the war.
On April 9, 1942, 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. Skardon and his fellow POWs were marched 80 miles north by their captors in one of the most notorious war crimes in history: The Bataan Death March.
Skardon survived the march only to suffer three years in Japanese prisoner of war camps. He survived despite becoming deathly ill with malaria, beriberi, diarrhea and other ailments.
Two fellow Clemson alumni, Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan, kept him alive by spoon-feeding him and eventually by trading his gold Clemson ring — which he had managed to keep hidden — for food. Leitner and Morgan did not survive the war.
As citizens of a U.S. commonwealth during the war, Filipinos were promised full veterans benefits for serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, the Rescission Act of 1946 stripped them of their active duty status and retroactively annulled any benefits they would have received. As a result, they have been largely under-recognized for their wartime efforts and received none of the benefits given to other veterans.
A grassroots effort that became the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, led by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a native of the Philippines, worked with members of Congress, federal agencies, policymakers and national advocates to award Filipino veterans the Congressional Gold Medal and raise awareness of the injustices done to them.
On Feb. 15, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz and Lisa Murkowski, members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, introduced the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2018. The bipartisan legislation would restore the U.S. government’s promise to Filipino World War II veterans and ensure those surviving become fully eligible for the benefits they earned.