Lieutenant Herschel Doyle Ponder was unquestionably one of the millions of American heroes who fought so bravely and selflessly in World War II. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Clusters for his service as a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber pilot in the US Army Air Forces (aka Army Air Corps) from Sept. 22, 1942 to Oct. 29, 1945, according to his 2007 obituary in the Asheville Citizen-Times.
As a fighter pilot in the 405th Bombardment Group, 510th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, he provided close support for ground troops and armored outfits, including elements of the US Third Army commanded by George S. Patton. He flew 51 missions; on his 41st mission, his plane was hit near Essen, Germany. He was barely able to cross the Rhine River before crash landing in Holland.
That and other brushes with death taught the young man from North Carolina to make the most of life. And within the spoken words and songs of the powerful and poignant Ponder Anew: A WWII Warrior’s Story we discover that a small act of kindness when he reached a British camp after that crash landing reverberated across the years for him and his loving family – as his daughter Carol Ponder tells us, her father later recalled “getting a cup of sweet tea from the commanding officer when he reached a British camp.” From then on, to paraphrase, sweet tea was (among its other fine attributes) their number one remedy for the shocks this world creates.
The beloved Nashville performing artist/teacher as well as her equally-esteemed producer/director husband Robert Kiefer’s labor of love is a readers’ theater adaptation of Ponder’s 1989 memoir Ponder Anew What the Almighty Can Do. That title will be familiar to those who have sung or heard the hymn of the same name.
Ponder Anew is certainly a searing, unvarnished and very personal account of war: The death of a German military messenger on a motorcycle is just one of the incidents Ponder set down on paper, and that among other memorable recollections reminds us that war is indeed Hell. Ponder is also a master of description, particularly when he guides us on the tour he took of Adolph Hitler’s mountaintop liar known as the Eagle’s Nest.
But his stirring prose – and the beautifully woven threads of spiritual and secular music that bind the courageous and conscientious words of Ponder Anew together in performance – are also a call to recognize and encourage the noble part of our individual and collective natures. Conflict is inevitable in our fragile and fallible human existence, but hearing the words and music that flow like honey from this presentation we are lovingly reminded that conflicts whenever possible should be resolved without violence.
After reading about their well-received show following an Hermitage Artists Retreat Series premiere in the historic Asolo Theater at Sarasota, Fl., and interviewing the couple before a 2012 Women’s Work appearance with Tennessee Women’s Theater Project, I finally got the privilege of seeing this generous gift on April 27 at Glendale United Methodist Church. Now, whether you’ve already experienced it or not, Bongo After Hours Theatre has scheduled Ponder Anew performances for the next three Wednesdays (May 8, 15 and 29). I heartily encourage everyone reading this to go see it.
Each Ponder Anew show begins at 7 p.m. and tickets are $10. For reservations go to bongoafterhourstheatre.com or call (615) 385-1188; tickets are also available at the door before each performance starting at 6 p.m. A tax-deductible contribution that will further enable the spread of this artistic and historic work can be made by clicking here. And check out the production’s Facebook page.
UPDATE: The show has been held over; there’s now a performance June 5 at Bongo After Hours Theatre beginning at 7 p.m.
*Photos courtesy Kiefer Creative.