WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (March 25, 2012) — A sea of close to 7,000 marchers were treated to a spectacular show in the sky in the form of U.S. Army Parachute Demonstration Team the Black Daggers during the 23rd annual Bataan Memorial Death March opening ceremony, Sunday, at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The Black Daggers performed several jumps before the waves of marchers took off on the 26.2 mile march and 14.2 mile honorary course.
“It was a fitting tribute to the battling bastards of Bataan, it helped pass the torch and memories to the next generation,” said WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. John Ferrari after finishing the 26.2 mile trek.
The Bataan Memorial Death March honors the World War II Soldiers who suffered the Bataan Death March. April 9, 1942, thousands of American and Filipino service members surrendered to Japanese forces and suffered the 80-mile march in which many died. Those who survived suffered even more as prisoners of war.
Most of the living Bataan Death March survivors were present at the opening and closing ceremonies on the 70th anniversary of the death march.
The survivors include: San Juan “Sam” Antonio, Julio Barela, Harold A. Bergbower, Valdemar “Val” DeHerrera, William Lyle “Bill” Eldridge, Glenn D. Frazier, William C. “Bill” Overmier, Milton “Pete” Pearce, Oscar L. Leonard, John L. Mims, Dionisio “Don” Perez, Leonard L. Robinson, Eugene William “Gene” Schmitz, Ben Skardon, Henry G. “Grady” Stanley and Richard Allen Trask.
For the fifth year in a row, 94-year-old Bataan Death March survivor Ben Skardon walked a portion of the march.
“It is the most focused, solemn, meaningful event that I have participated in,” Skardon said during a presentation he gave a day prior to the march.
Skardon was assigned to the 92nd Infantry Regiment and was only 24 during the time of his capture. The Clemson, N. C. native said he attributes his survival to two fellow Soldiers who went to Clemson University and who watched after each other during difficult times, his can of condensed milk, which he was able to sneak past the prison guards, and his Clemson ring, which he was able to trade for food and rice during his most unhealthiest state.
Skardon marched with a group of followers who he has adopted as, “Ben’s Brigade.” Skardon marched the trail with his commemorative can of condensed milk, which he purchased at the WSMR commissary when he first began to march, at age 89.
“He quit surprising me about 10 years ago. I expect he’ll hit 100. He’s very remarkable,” said his daughter Beverly Skardon Hardin, also a new member of Ben’s Brigade.
This year, Skardon reached eight and a half miles, the same distance he marched last year.
On March 24 the New Mexico State University ROTC Cadets received a welcomed surprise during a seminar held at the WSMR Post Theater.
During the ceremony, NMSU Army ROTC Commander, Lt. Col. Andrew Taylor, unveiled the new Bataan Patch design to be worn by NMSU Cadets. Bataan survivors and family members pinned the patches on the cadets’ uniforms.
“I’m amazed, I mean the first year we had it we had 134 Cadets participating,” said Raymond Pickering, who created the Bataan Memorial Death March as a senior project at NMSU. “You heard so much about it and no one really knew and when you hear their story you realize these people did great things.”
“Some of these (survivors) here held the stories to themselves because they felt in some way a sort of shame for surrendering, and now look at them they’re rock stars,” Pickering said.