By Rick Larson Jr.
After the three-month battle of Bataan, Filipino and American prisoners were starting to be rounded up in Marveles and Bagac town on April 9, 1942 and forced to march varying distances (around 70 miles) by their captors, the Japanese.
If you became too weak or fatigued to continue marching, you were ruthlessly stabbed on site
The conditions were inhumane at best. Disease ran rampant, injuries were severe, and the captured forces were subject to endless physical abuse, wanton killings, and many different forms of torture and deprivation. The Japanese would later be judged by an Allied military commission as their actions against the prisoners being a war crime.
Cruel and inhuman treatment
The prisoners (about 75,000 Filipino and American forces) were marched all the way to San Fernando Railway, were initially some prisoners were met with some compassion and remorse by few Japanese soldiers. This quickly changed though.
The prisoners faced undaunting brutality, personal possessions seized, and going as far as knocking soldier’s teeth out who had gold fillings. The Japanese did not consider these men P.O.W.’s, and only had pure hatred for the prisoners.
While on the march prisoners received little to no food, water, or even basic necessities. This resulted in many deaths. A form of torture used during the march was called “sun treatment”. Prisoners were forced to be in direct sunlight for long periods of time, with nothing protecting them from the harsh sun, and if you asked for water, you were shot dead on site.
“I’m not a hero. It’s not how much you suffer. That doesn’t make you a hero.”
Some were even made to strip completely naked, or sit right next to cold fresh water, just to torment them even more. If you became too weak or fatigued to continue marching, you were ruthlessly stabbed on site, or ran over by truck. There was simply no care for life during this march.
This year marks the 75th anniversary since these horrific events took place. Col. Ben Skardon looks back at his time in the march, and his overwhelming feelings on his arrival home. During his 60-Minutes interview, he made it clear he did not feel his actions made him a hero, “Don’t even say that word in my presence,” Ben Skardon told Sharyn Alfonsi of 60 Minutes. “I’m not a hero. It’s not how much you suffer. That doesn’t make you a hero.”
After being held captive by the Japanese for over 1,000 days Ben gave light to his feelings during his homecoming, “It was like all the dreams come true,” he says. “All of them, they come true. Here I am alive, whole. I can still do everything.” Though Ben said he never told his parents exactly what happened, that he felt ashamed of their actions. “We had surrendered,” he stated “When I got home, I didn’t want to see anybody.”
Col. Skardon is now 99 years old, and every year he still takes part in the Bataan Memorial Death March to honor his fellow brothers who did not make it home to their families. It is a 26.2-mile loop within the desert of New Mexico. Supporters on the route endlessly clapped and cheered as he passed, just how they did when he originally returned. When arriving back in the states, Skardon said of his fellow Americans that “People are so kind, and that stuck with me,” adding, “People are so kind. Still are”.