During the months that followed the fall of Bataan to Japanese Army Troops [WWII] and the subsequent imprisonment of captured American troops at the large POW camp at Cabanatuan in Central Luzon (the main island of the Philippines), the physical condition of many POWs deteriorated. Hundreds died from lack of sufficient food, medicine and medical care. At this time, I was fortunate to have teamed up with two fellow officers who were Clemson graduates: Henry Leitner ’37 and Otis Morgan ’38.
As conditions worsened, I became a victim of beriberi, malaria, diarrhea, and an eye infection. I had no appetite, and I could hardly swallow. Henry and Otis took turns spoon-feeding me, cleaning my eyes, carrying me piggyback to an open latrine, washing me and carrying me back to our nipa shack.
Most of our personal possessions had disappeared; however, I had managed to keep my Clemson class ring hidden. Otis, who worked on “the farm” as an “in-charge” (an American who could understand enough Japanese to pass on the instructions to the POW work details), let it be known that he knew of a gold ring available for trade to the Japanese for food.
A deal was made, and one evening Otis came in from the farm with a small can of potted ham and a live pullet-sized chicken. Henry borrowed a tin pail, built a fire and boiled the chicken. They fed me hot chicken soup, chicken with rice and rice with chicken. Nothing was left except the bones, which by that time, were gleaming white. They broke the bones and retrieved the marrow with a piece of wire. Nothing edible remained. The little can of potted ham was used to make highly flavored rice-balls. These delectable little nuggets seemed to restore my appetite, and my physical condition improved.
My debt to Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan is heavy – it cannot be repaid. Otis was killed aboard an unmarked ship carrying POWs to Japan. Henry died in early 1945 at a POW camp in Japan. [Skardon was eventually freed from a POW camp in Manchuria after Japan’s surrender.]
Hardly a day goes by that I do not remember the selflessness and the personal sacrifice of Henry and Otis and the role my Clemson class ring played in keeping me alive.
Colonel Ben Skardon ‘38