Ben Skardon plans on walking the Bataan Memorial Death March in 2018 -- when he'll be 100 years old. He continues to awe and inspire others at the event who have to wonder what's more remarkable: Skardon surviving the cruel WWII march as a young man or his continuing participation in the memorial event as he approaches a century of age. He's been walking in the Bataan Memorial Death March for 10 years and is the only survivor of the infamous 1942 march to do so. Sharyn Alfonsi walked with Skardon in New Mexico last year for a story that will be featured on the Memorial Day Weekend edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, May 28 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
The retired Army Col. is one of about 100 survivors of one of WWII's most notorious war atrocities, in which the Japanese forced tens of thousands of Filipino and American prisoners to march 66 miles in 95-degree heat. Thousands died. Skardon walks eight miles or so in the commemorative event held at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. "Out here, you look wide, there's not a fence in sight, no guards. You could almost say there's immense freedom," says Skardon, recalling the prison camp they were marched to. Many died there, too. Skardon survived beriberi, a serious vitamin deficiency that sometimes causes death.
"Don't even say that word in my presence. I'm not a hero. It's not how much you suffer. That's not, doesn't make you a hero."
60 Minutes followed him in 2016 to tell his remarkable story of survival and the inspiring way he is still able to walk in memory of his comrades who died on the march 75 years ago. "It's also about people that I knew who were like brothers to me and not a single one of them got back. I'm very lucky and this is something to me that is obligatory."
Just don't call him a hero. "Don't even say that word in my presence. I'm not a hero. It's not how much you suffer. That's not, doesn't make you a hero," he tells a surprised Alfonsi.
Skardon lives in Clemson, South Carolina, near the university where he taught English for 19 years and graduated from in 1938. Alfonsi also interviews him in his home and on a walk on the campus of Clemson. They stopped at a memorial to the university's war dead. Pointing to it, Skardon says, "They are the true heroes, I suppose you could say."
Skardon walked again this past March in 90-degree heat; with a just a few short rest stops, he walked 8.5 miles.