Ben Skardon, the oldest American survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II, has died this week at the age of 104.
His passing on Monday comes just days after "being informed of the approval of his honorary promotion to the rank of Brigadier General," according to Clemson University, where the Army veteran graduated from in 1938.
The forced 65-mile march in April 1942, which happened in sweltering jungles of the Philippines following a surrender to Japanese troops, left an estimated 1,000 U.S. and 9,000 Filipino soldiers dead. Those who survived would spend the next three years in captivity in the Philippines or in Japanese POW camps, an experience that forged intense bonds among the men.
"If you knew about the sacrifices of those men in the prison camps, you would know I am the weak one. They brought me back, time and again, from death and they are so much of a part of my years in incarceration that I cannot ever forget them," Skardon told Fox News in 2017 before attending the annual Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico.
"It brings great satisfaction to me personally and makes me feel I have done my duty for those special men who are not here today," he added.
Before his capture, Skardon had earned two Silver Stars and four Bronze Stars for valor while leading Company A of the 92nd Infantry Regiment PA (Philippine Army), a battalion of Filipino Army recruits.
Skardon was born in 1917 in Louisiana and joined the U.S. Army a year after he graduated college, according to the Greenville News.
He also survived the sinking of two prison ships and was rescued by the Soviet army at a prison camp in Manchuria in August 1945, the newspaper adds.
After those episodes, Skardon served during the Korean War and left the Army in 1962 with the rank of colonel, then went on to teach English at Clemson until 1985, the university said.
His wife of 71 years, Sara Golden – with whom he had four children – reportedly died in 2019.
Jennifer Hickey contributed to this report.