OUR Clemson

Public invited to participate in second annual Clemson 8 Challenge



Eighty years ago, on April 9, 1942, six Clemson alumni became prisoners of war with tens of thousands of their brothers-in-arms when American troops fighting in the Philippines were ordered to surrender to the Japanese. They were marched north some 70 miles by their captors in what would become known as the Bataan Death March. All six Clemson men survived the march, but only three returned from the war.

The “Clemson 8” Challenge was created in 2021 to honor these six heroes and the other Clemson alumni who suffered as POWs during World War II. It raised $56,000 for scholarships in the ROTC program in its inaugural year. The challenge was designed for everyone “whether you are a marathoner, a biker, an exercise advocate, a walker, a swimmer or a couch potato.” Participants can complete the eight-, 14- or 26.2-mile event in one day or over eight days.

An on-campus event will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 12, at the Upper Intramural Fields (Lot 2 during football season) across from Fike Recreation Center and the North Upper Deck of Memorial Stadium.

The first person to sign up for the 2022 Challenge was Col. Ben Skardon on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. On the same day, the 104-year-old was promoted to the rank of Honorary Brigadier General.

Skardon was the last living member of the six Clemson POWs who survived the Bataan Death March. He was well known as the only survivor of the actual Bataan Death March who walked in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, one of the most challenging and popular marathons in the world. The event is a pilgrimage for veterans, active-duty military members, supporters, the few remaining survivors and family members of the men who perished in the march, the POW camps and the Death Ships.

Skardon walked in the march 11 times, most often a distance of 8.5 miles, beginning in 2007 when he was 89. His last walk was in 2019, at age 101. He considered it his duty to walk each year to honor his brothers-in-arms who did not return from the war. He was set to walk again in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic canceled the event. Skardon lamented when the 2021 event was also canceled. As he put it to a group of friends shortly after hearing the news, his annual trip to White Sands was the “carrot” that got him up and walking every day.

A team of students, veterans, alumni and friends created the “Clemson 8” Challenge to carry on Skardon’s mission of honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country in one of the most brutal wartime events in history.

“The whole idea of a local Bataan remembrance started with that carrot statement,” said Trent Allen, a 1982 Clemson graduate and one of Skardon’s close friends. “Of course, we knew that he would never agree to an event that was just about him, so it would have to be about Clemson or his buddies in the Bataan march. Ben walked eight-plus miles in the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico from age 88 to 99 and three-plus miles at 100 and 101. [So] just like that, the ‘Clemson 8’ Challenge was formed!”

Skardon participated in the first “Clemson 8” March in 2021, walking eight miles — a little over a mile a day for six consecutive days — four months shy of his 104th birthday.

Gen, Skardon died on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

All proceeds from the $35 (adult) and $20 (student) entry fees will benefit the Clemson University ROTC program to fund scholarships and send a group of cadets to compete in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Sign up for the in-person or virtual event here.