My Father's War

Location:  Nashville, TN
United States
Project Description: 

Our Mission:

Through performances of the highest artistic quality, post-show discussions, and creative workshops, to honor and serve our veterans and to help our communities process the social and cultural effects of war with integrity, in an honest and responsible manner.


On July 4, 1989, Lieutenant Herschel Ponder sat down at his kitchen table to write his war memoir. He began with a dedication to his daughters, “…I had a sudden urge to tell you about my war, World War II – and the subsequent coping – my peace...."  His middle daughter, Carol Ponder, and her husband, Robert Kiefer, have adapted her father's memoir into a two-person performance that honors the great tradition of Appalachian storytelling and song.


Lt. Herschel Ponder wrote in his storytelling voice – droll, sincere, and cruelly straightforward.  He described his fears, his joys, and his struggle to remain human during and after an inhumane war; but his story is not just about WWII. It’s about going to war and coming home again. It’s a story for all generations.


Lt. Ponder was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1922.  At the age of 20, after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew 51 missions in P-47 Thunderbolts in the European Theatre.  Filled with both humor and horror, his war memoir is funny, tragic, and poignant by turns.  Carol and Robert have crafted a performance using sections of the memoir, family stories, and songs Lt. Ponder and his family loved, both popular and traditional. 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, including the struggle with PTSD. 


The discussions after the show – an integral part of every performance – are always rich with shared experiences.  Hearing Lt. Ponder’s words of war and peace surrounded by narrative and song, people find powerful touchstones that inspire them to open up about their own experiences – whether they are veterans or have veterans in their lives. Mental health professionals have affirmed that seeing My Father's War effects profound forward movement in theraputic settings.


Supported by members of the military, mental health professionals, and enthusiastic theater-goers, Carol and Robert perform My Father’s War  for diverse venues and audiences including: 

  • VA hospitals and other facilities
  • Other organizations that serve veterans (e.g. American Legion, Military Officers of America, VFW, etc.)
  • Arts centers
  • Organizations that serve the homeless
  • Middle and high schools, colleges and universities
  • Churches, places of worship
  • Conferences
  • Reenactments 
  • In just about any place for any audience that is interested in good storytelling and the healing and understanding inspired by the performance.

The performance is self-contained (two stools, two music stands, a guitar) and easy to produce in almost any space. It plays as well in a thousand-seat theater as it does in a classroom.


Carol and Robert also work with qualified counselors, therapists, and clergy by leading creative writing and speaking workshops inspired by the performance. Adapted for each audience, these workshops help participants of all ages – veterans and their families, as well as civilians – to frame their distress or new understanding. Both performance and workshops also help the professionals to understand the experiences and concerns of their clients.


The performance and different creative workshops and residencies are wonderful for students in middle school, high school, and higher education. My Father’s War, adapted from a primary document, brings history to life.  It engages, entertains, and educates every audience. 


But never forget: My Father’s War is first and always a wonderful work of theater that will be enjoyed by veterans and their families and communities, by history buffs, by students, by regular theater-goers – by anyone who enjoys a thumping good story and beautiful songs!  Carol and Robert have presented over 80 performances in seven states and seek to spread the work as widely as possible.