IF YOU GO
■ What: "Ponder Anew: A WWII Warrior's Story."
■ When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 18.
■ Where: Hiwassee College, Madisonville, Tenn. From Chattanooga, take I-75 North to Sweetwater Exit 60. Madisonville is nine miles east of Sweetwater on Highway 68 (precise directions online).
■ Admission: Free.
■ Phone: 423-442-3210.
■ Website: www.monroearts.com
A story that "evokes the essence of war and warriors, their victories, sacrifices, loyalty to each other and the sweet pain of coming home" will be presented in a single performance Sunday, May 18, at Hiwassee College.
The Monroe Area Council for the Arts is co-sponsoring the production, which is based on the life of Lt. Herschel Ponder, a fighter pilot in World War II.
Ponder was born in Asheville, N.C., in 1922 and enlisted in the Army Airs Corps at age 20. During the war, he flew 51 missions in a P-47 Thunderbolt in the European Theatre, according to his family. He wrote his war memoir for his three daughters -- Anne, Carol and Schell -- in 1989.
"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."
The resulting manuscript, "Ponder Anew What the Almighty Can Do," was written in his storytelling voice. Family members describe it as "droll, sincere and sometimes almost cruelly straightforward" yet "warm, funny, tragic and poignant by turns."
The show is presented as a "readers theater" play with music by the veteran's middle daughter, Carol Ponder, and her husband, Robert Kiefer, both of whom have 40 years' experience in music and theater. The narrative play is told in Lt. Ponder's own words, directly from his memoir, interspersed with family stories and some of the songs he and his family loved, both popular and traditional.
Lt. Ponder wrote of becoming a "professional killing machine" during his tour of duty. When he returned home, he faced reintegrating into civilian life while struggling with the unseen wounds of war.
"My father pulled no punches in his memoir, and neither do we in the performance we've crafted from it," says Carol Ponder. It has, she says, "made generals and mothers alike cry."