World War II POW survivor shares tale of hope, determination, resilience

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Erin Trower
  • 8th Air Force Public Affairs
The four pillars of resiliency -- physical, mental, spiritual and social -- are drilled into the minds of Airmen today to emphasize how important it is that no matter what life situation they are going through, there is always a healthy way to handle the situation.

While they didn’t come packaged with program names like Comprehensive Airman Fitness, these same concepts were practiced back in 1939 when U.S. military members used them to survive life-threatening situations in a time of conflict. These skills allowed many heroes to tell their stories of survival to generations to come.

One story from this era was revealed by former Army Air Forces Sergeant Lloyd Ponder from his home in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Nov. 29, 2017. As a World War II veteran who was captured and made a prisoner of war, Ponder was determined to make it out of a Japanese-controlled POW camp alive.

“Your mental attitude toward how you handle situations has a lot to do with your success,” Ponder said. “A lot of our fellas would give up, and they ended up not getting through it.”

While Ponder was captured, he recalled what things in life were most important to him and had a burning desire to do whatever he could to survive.

“Regardless of what others do, grit your teeth and do what needs to be done,” Ponder said. “Just never give up.”

Physical labor and displays of suffering were a daily occurrence. Despite the difficulties, Ponder kept persevering and credits his survival on his determination.

“I remember thinking, ‘if anyone is going to get out of this alive, it’s going to be me,’” Ponder reflected. “Determination is the attitude you had to have, knowing you could survive whatever!”

Ponder proudly shared that not only did he survive being held as a POW, but he also managed to accomplish something more miraculous.

“When I got out, I didn’t have a scratch anywhere,” Ponder exclaimed. “That’s a miracle!”

According to Ponder, the only injury he received was self-inflicted … from opening a can of rations.

Although times have changed, Ponder shares words of advice that were applicable to him more than 75 years ago. That is to always have hope, no matter what.

“Hope makes a difference,” Ponder concluded. “If you don’t have hope, you’re gone. Having hope can get you through anything.”

Eighth Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, met with Ponder at his home Dec. 6, 2017, to recognize him for his outstanding bravery and contributions during his time of service.

“We look at what our Airmen are doing today, and we want them to remember what your generation did,” Bussiere said. “We can read the books, and we can watch the movies, but meeting American heroes like you in person makes all the difference.”

Bussiere presented Ponder with an 8th Air Force 75th Anniversary patch and coin as a way of showing appreciation for his actions and all he endured.

“Your spirit and determination will inspire our young Airmen. They will look at what you did and the adversity you dealt with in World War II, and that will provide them great comfort that they can get through things today in 2017,” Bussiere concluded.