The group began their eight pilgrimage in good spirits, Skardon laughed when he noticesd the amount of people taking photos of him and his brigade as they crossed the starting line. Skardon began marching at 89 years old and is now 97.
Skardon agreed to a “drinking game” at each water point as proposed by a member of his brigade.
When approaching the first mile marker, Skardon commanded his brigade to march on by pointing his finger forward. Normally, he and the brigade stop for a photo at almost each mile marker, not this year, Skardon was on a mission.
Mile Marker 1
Skardon reached the first mile within 24 minutes, his family said he had been training and averaging about 30 minutes per mile.
Skardon and his brigade approached and passed a line of marchers who started almost a half hour before Skardon, and were now waiting in a port-a-pottie line.
A marcher caught up to the brigade and asked Skardon if he could take a photo with her. Skardon, who is quite the lady’s man, agreed. She thanked him for his service and continued on with her personal journey.
Mile Marker 2
Skardon and his brigade began approaching the first water point manned by the 40th Mobility Augmentation Company. A young boy approached Skardon with a tray of water before they arrived at the water point. Normally Skardon refuses pleas to drink water but never from water point volunteers. Skardon cheered with his cups and the brigade. Skardon took sips of his cup of water or “Gentleman’s Jack,” as Skardon called it.
As he approached the main water point the entire group of volunteers cheered for him and the brigade.
Well into 2.5 miles of his journey, a member of his brigade joked about a man with a bayonet being close behind him. Skardon laughed. In the past, members of the brigade who would quit the march were “bayoneted” by a swing of Skardon’s arm.
As the brigade approached the third mile marker he said his farewell to his right hand partner, Katie Lewis. Throughout the march Skardon asks members of his brigade for assistance on either one or both sides of him. For the most part it’s usually Lewis because he likes her smile.
“Thank you for the mile,” Skardon told Lewis.
Mile Marker 3
NMSU ROTC Cadet Joseph Hernandez took over right hand duty. Since last year’s march, a cadet has been assigned to each survivor who attends the march. Last year, Cadet Aaron Stoddard accompanied him on the march. Skardon asked Hernandez if he new Stoddard. Asking about him by first and last name, without stopping to think.
Shortly after, a Game Warden drives past the group on his ATV. He returns to the front of the group where Skardon was, after a member of the brigade explained the brigade’s tradition when faced with a Game Warden.
The Game Warden ceremoniously handcuffed Skardon for “Oryx poaching.”
Almost every year he’s participated Skardon has worn a “Wanted: Oryx” shirt. Though he’s visited the area eight times now, he has yet to see an Oryx. He asked the warden if he could catch one for him. The warden jokingly promised him one for dinner that night.
Shortly after visiting with the warden, the brigade reached the second water point manned by the Air Force. He walked up to the volunteers who offered water cups and asked if they have any Gentleman’s Jack available. They all laugh.
“You’re doing amazing,” one of the water point volunteers said.
The brigade continues on.
Mile Marker 4
Cheryl Fallstead, a member of the brigade and a local reporter, had been posting photos of Skardon throughout the “pilgrimage.”
She’d been hashtagging everything with CLEMSON. Skardon attended and taught at Clemson for many years. Fallstead also sent updates to the president of the university.
“He said tell him I’m cheering him on,” said Fallstead to Skardon from the president of the university.
Mile Marker 5
Skardon stopped to pose for a photo at this mile marker and points at it and laughs. He conquered another mile. One of his brigade members reported to him that he had finished the last mile in 21 minutes and that he needed to slow down.
Lewis is back on Skardon’s arm and he stopped walking for a bit to tell her a story. After they start to walk again Skardon began to serenade Lewis with romantic songs of his era.
“I really hope I get to be here again next year,” he said during song intermissions.
Mile Marker 6
Skardon also stopped take a photo at this mile marker. At one point throughout his pilgrimage he usually asks for a moment of silence. He believes in the discipline of prayer.
Shortly after, he stopped to talk to a marcher on the side of the trail. The marcher was Rob Schurtz, his father had been killed on one of the hell ships as a POW. Skardon knew their father and has kept in touch with the family since his first visit eight years ago.
“Maj. Schurtz was kind of like an old momma to me,” Skardon said about Schurtz’ father.
The brigade reached water point 2A manned by a combination of Las Cruces, New Mexico organizations. The volunteers offered Skardon fruit slices. Skardon takes an orange slice which he stuffs into his mouth whole while posing for photos. He had a conversation with a couple of female volunteers and continued on.
The brigade is a ways away from the last water point. Hernandez offered Skardon a sip of water from a cup he kept. Skardon accepted and told Hernandez he “makes a good drink.”
Mile Marker 7
Fallstead recommended they not stop here and take a group photo at the final mile marker.
“I wanted to stop here,” Skardon said pouting.
He waved goodbye to the sign and continued on.
At this poin the sand started to get softer and Skardon sought the help of WSMR McAfee Health Clinic Medic Sgt. Isiah Hudson and his cadet to guide him to a harder terrain.
He’s a lot quieter now. In prior interviews he always mentions how he gets quieter towards the end of the march because it turns into a solemn retreat towards the end.
As he approached the eight mile marker, Chaplain Bradley West and his wife Susan walk towards the brigade with a tray of waters. They all accepted as the temperature had gone up and the terrain had become quite steep.
Mile Marker 8
Everyone gathered for a celebratory group photo at the final mile. A second photo with only Clemson graduates is taken. An alumni member contacted the president of the universty. Skardon tells the president, “All present and accounted for. I think I’m going to survive. This is history.”
After the phone call, Skardon and the brigade continues on until they reach the third water point which is manned by the WSMR Chapel. There he is greeted by a large group of volunteers and thanked by many, the usual. Skardon is then evaluated by medics and goes to his room to have a martini before the start of the closing ceremony.