April 15, 2015 Edition

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World War II veteran Miles Ponder and his wife, Catherine, look at some of their family photographs at their home in Old Walnut Ridge in this 2008 photo. The Ponders, along with their son Will, who was two months old at the time, were living in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.
Batesville Guard Photo ~ Lacy Mitchell

Miles Ponder was World War II icon

Lawrence County lost one of its most iconic World War II figures with the passing of Miles Ponder of Old Walnut Ridge on Sunday.

Miles was 98 years old, and he and his wife Catherine would have celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in the fall of this year. Born July 16, 1916, he was just 15 months shy of his 100th birthday.

In recent years, the Ponders have been active and shared their story at Pearl Harbor Day remembrances held at the Wings of Honor Museum at the Walnut Ridge airport.

In 2008, Batesville Guard reporter Lacy Mitchell, who is a native of Smithville, interviewed the Ponders for a feature marking the 67th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. A few excerpts from that feature are shared here.

For Miles, who had joined the military, completed flight training and married his sweetheart, Catherine, all by the end of 1940, being stationed in Hawaii was exciting. Hawaii, with its melting pot of cultures, was also exciting for Catherine as the young wife of a Navy pilot.

The idea of the United States becoming involved in World War II at the time wasn't something on his mind or the minds of those close to him, said Miles.

In late November of ’41, Miles had boarded the USS Pensacola and was bound for the Philippines. His ship had just crossed the equator south of Honolulu on Dec. 7 when his crew received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

About six miles away from the naval base in Pearl Harbor, Catherine was at home in Honolulu. She had just finished feeding two-month-old son, Will, and was laying down for a nap when the sound of explosions erupted in the air and "every siren was going off,"Catherine said.

"I thought I was dreaming,"said Catherine until she heard a neighbor exclaim, "Bill, get up we have to go to the station, we're being attacked!" That's when Catherine knew she wasn't dreaming and that something was wrong.

On the USS Pensacola, Miles remembered when his ship picked up the message: "Air raid on Pearl Harbor ~ this is no drill."

"It was the first time I had ever been frightened," he said, thinking back to that Sunday morning.

Catherine, who escaped with Will to safety at a neighbor's house, said she remembers standing outside on her neighbor's balcony, watching the Japanese fighter planes fly across the sky, while hoping Miles was safe.

But it would be more than a month before she would know if he was OK. Catherine received the official telegram that Miles sent telling her he was safe. That was Jan. 19, 1942. But by then Catherine already knew.

"I beat the telegram (home)," Miles said, laughing.

After the war ended, the Ponders returned to Walnut Ridge, their hometown, and it's where they've remained ever since. Miles farmed and worked for the Lawrence County Soil Conservation Service, while Catherine was a housewife, mother to their five children, piano teacher and 4-H leader for many years.

In 1991 they did return to Pearl Harbor on the 50th anniversary of the attacks, and Will, who was in his 50s at that time, went with them.

While Miles doesn't know if he could do it all over again, one thing he does know is how hard it was to be away from home during the war without being able to watch his son grow, he said.

"It was lonesome. But that's war. It's not pleasant any way you look at it," he said.

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