Ponder Anew: A WWII Warrior's Story

I had a sudden urge to tell you about my war, World War II – and the subsequent coping – my peace.

PONDER ANEW: A WWII WARRIOR'S STORY is a two-person readers theatre performance with songs and underscoring based on the memoir of a WWII fighter pilot in the European Theater.

On July 4, 1989, Lieutenant Herschel Ponder wrote to his three daughters – Anne, Carol and Schell, "I had a sudden urge to tell you about my war, World War II – and the subsequent coping – my peace. After 45 years some of the events are as vivid as ever. There is no fiction in what is to follow. The time, places, the people, the involvements are as I remember them." Lt. Herschel Ponder’s WWII memoir, entitled PONDER ANEW WHAT THE ALMIGHTY CAN DO, was written in his storytelling voice – droll, sincere, and sometimes almost cruelly straightforward. In it, he wrote of his fears, his joys, and his struggle to remain human during and after an inhumane war.

Lt. Ponder was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1922. At the age of 20, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew 51 missions in his beloved P-47 Thunderbolt in the European Theatre. His war memoir, written for his daughters in 1989, is warm, funny, tragic, and poignant by turns. Carol Ponder, Lt. Ponder’s middle daughter, and Robert Kiefer, her husband, have crafted a performance of words from the memoir, family stories, and some of the songs Ponder and his family loved, both popular and traditional. The show was premiered as part of The Hermitage Artists’ Retreat Series (where Carol received a six-week Fellowship for artistic excellence) at the Historic Asolo Theater in Sarasota, Florida. It is a beautiful production that evokes the essence of war and warriors, their victories, sacrifices, loyalty to each other, and the sweet pain of coming home. The audience response from combat veterans and other people from many walks of life has been tremendous.

The discussions after the show are always rich with shared experiences. After WWII, Lt. Ponder lived with varying degrees of PTSD and other physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges, finding relief in creating a rich and interesting life for himself and with his family - then, finally, in writing his memoir. He had a long career with Southern Railroad and was a powerful force in community and church service. Hearing his words of war and peace, surrounded by narrative and song, is a powerful catalyst that inspires others to think and open up about their own experiences – whether they are survivors of combat or the family and friends who are living through PTSD and other after-effects of a war with their combat veterans. Supported by members of the military, psychologists, and a growing audience of new friends and fans, Carol and Robert plan to perform Ponder Anew for combat soldiers and their friends and families, as well as for general audiences. Although not therapists, Carol and Robert can work with qualified therapists and clergy by leading workshops – after the performance – with people of all ages in poetry and songwriting, memoir composition, and monologue creation. These workshops will help participants to frame their distress and help therapists and clergy to understand more quickly and deeply the concerns of the people with whom they work.

Our hope is to spread this performance and the accompanying workshops as far and wide as possible, in this country and for Armed Forces facilities all over the world. We have two goals: the first is to use the performance and workshops, combined, as a catalyst for healing with combat soldiers, their families, and friends; the second is to educate the broader population about what we are asking of the young men and women whom we send all over the world to fight our wars.

My father pulled no punches in his memoir, and neither do we in the performance we’ve crafted from it. It’s all there – the callow mountain boy who loved school and reading, hunting and fishing, playing tennis and basketball, painting with oils and singing in choirs. This young man of 20 was trained to be a self-described “professional exterminator” who performed horrific deeds like tracking tanks and motorcyclists with his P-47, burning and blowing both out of existence, as well as more mundane dog fights, bomb dropping, and widespread application of napalm. In the midst of destruction are stories of camaderie and friendship – and lost friends. When he comes home, he asks forgiveness of his God for committing murder and then struggles to understand how he can suddenly be a student at Chapel Hill where there is no death and no one who understands that he is “jumping out of his skin” every moment of every day. He goes on to describe some of the productive and joyful life that he did manage to create – and we tell that, too. The performance, laced with songs and underscoring, has made generals and mothers, alike, cry.

Following are some testimontials from a selection of people who have seen the performance.

What people are saying about Ponder Anew: A WWII Warrior’s Story

Watching the presentation of Ponder Anew and having read the entire memoir – as a former Airman in the USAF, then as a Chaplain in both The USAF and The US Army, and now as a Mental Health professional working with Warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan – I was brought to tears as I was forced to relive the sights, sounds and smells of combat. This is a must-see for every former or current Service member and their family members – if we ever hope to appreciate what we and our loved ones have experienced in, "The Fog of War."

Frank M. Brannon: Licensed Professional Counselor, Mental Health Service Provider

"I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to experience Ponder Anew: A Warrior’s Story. There are just times when you know somewhere deep inside that you have experienced something eternal, something rare and raw. That is the feeling around this performance. It was a brilliant presentation of your joint gifts along with your heartfelt appreciation for those who have served our country with such silent bravery only to return home and carry on their broken lives with such determination. I have attempted to convey the message and the heart of the message, but no one can do it like the two of you. It is a gift to all and a beautiful tribute to our military, in history and present."

Kay P. Arnold, NCC, LPC/MHSP: National Certified Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, Mental Health Service Provider

Ponder Anew: A WWII Warrior’s Story is an emotional and nostalgic work that will touch anyone who knows a veteran of any war, then or now. The Sarasota Florida audience loved it.

Patricia Caswell: Co-Founder and Program Director The Hermitage Artist Retreat

Audience members sometimes have difficulty leaving the performance site at the conclusion of this presentation. Many, perhaps most, remain to participate in or observe the open dialogue which follows. This is not just because they have been intimately engaged for the previous hour with two multi-talented artists. In truth, there are aspects of this moving dramatic experience that touch the audience members deeply and personally, and often raise painful but previously suppressed questions that cry out in anguish for some logical answer. Conceived, written, and beautifully presented by Carol Ponder and Robert Kiefer, the recounting of the personal experiences of war and return, and the indelible impact on the warrior's family, this piece effectively captures the core of even those who have not lived through the hell of combat and suffered the residual mental scars of these experiences. Ponder Anew: A WWII Warriors Story is decidedly not a "fun night at the theater"; but it will engage you, may alter your perceptions, and even change your life. You can expect the haunting and familiar melodies to linger with you well into the night.
Walter C. Gray: MFA, PsyD

The cost of war on the human psyche has often been the untold and unacknowledged burden that soldiers, men and women, their families and nations have buried – too often at our collective regret. Our communities are filled with people suffering all too often silently. For some the consequences are life-shattering. Ponder Anew: A WWII Warriors Story invites all of us to reflect on this cost, this burden that threatens the health and wellbeing of so many – mentally, physically and spiritually. The story is timeless and opens the door not simply for understanding, but for real healing. I would encourage everyone to see and hear this performance. It will move you, cause you to reflect deeply, and offer you a way of sharing intimately with those in the midst of suffering the burdens of war.

Rev. Battle A. Beasley: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

Ponder Anew is a front row seat inside the mind of a WWII fighter pilot. It tells the story of a young man barely out of his teens who flew over 50 missions in the European theater from 1942 to 1945. His memoir, written in 1989 decades after the war, reveals the bravery, fear, dreams and passion of a boy flying daredevil missions for the U.S. Army Air Corps. Hershel Ponder’s WWII memoir, performed by his daughter and son-in-law, is a bright tribute to his great courage and his humanity. Gripping scenes from the cockpit reveal the glory and the agony of war through the eyes of a young man discovering his own mortality and the larger meaning of our existence as human beings. Music from the era, sung by Ponder’s daughter, is laced throughout the performance, making it an unforgettable experience.

Nan Gurley: Dove Award Winner, Performing Artist, Songwriter, Author

Carol's father flew planes in WWII. My dad jumped out of planes into Philippine jungles. Like thousands of young men, they answered a patriotic call, fulfilled their assignments with skill, and were honorably discharged back into civilian life. As children of those men we are first and last proud of our fathers, but we also know that it took an emotional toll to fight in war. Ponder Anew: A WWII Warrior’s Story is a compelling story of Mr. Ponder's experience as a fighter pilot told in story and song by two of the most talented actors working today. As an audience member I felt as though I was, at times, in the cockpit as well as back on earth feeling the emotional struggles that follow a successful mission. This story you will not soon forget and be grateful that it remains in your memory long after the superb performances by Robert and Carol.

Henry O. Arnold, Actor/Author

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