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Hometown Patriot: Lloyd Ponder - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Lloyd Ponder escaped Bataan Death March, survived as POW

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After graduating from Pleasant Hill in Sabine Parish, it was either pick cotton or join the military for Lloyd Ponder.  So he shipped out with the Army Air Corp to the Phillipines when it was peace time in late 1941.

Peace didn't last long. 

Soon after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they turned their forces on the U.S. base in the Phillipines.  Their air raids wiped out our ships and planes.  What was aircraft mechanic like Ponder to do?

"We didn't have any airplanes. We wasn't going to get any airplanes. And we were there. And they had the rifles. So we become infantry." Ponder says of his group.

He was issued a World War I era rifle and ordered to try to help hold the Bataan peninsula.  But the sick, starving and ill-equipped Americans were forced to surrender.  The Japanese suddenly had an estimated 80-thousand prisoners and forced them to march 80 miles through sweltering island heat to a prison camp.  Thousands died along what became known as The Bataan Death march that began at this time 72 years ago.

But Ponder was not among those prisoners.  He'd escaped with marines by boat to a nearby island.

"That literally saved my life," Ponder says.  "I did not make the death march. Because with malaria, man, I wouldn't have made the first day." 

It was only a matter of time -- and fierce Japanese shelling -- before Ponder and the rest were taken prisoner.  He was in a POW camp in the Phillipines for the first 18 months before he was crammed into a ship with other prisoners.
 
Ponder sat and described the 18-day trip to Japan, pulling his knees pulled up to his chin to show how he sat in the ship's forward hold.

"You put your head back on the fellow behind you. That was how tight it was," he said.

Ponder says their unmarked freighter was nearly torpedoed on the way to a prison camp in Japan. Finally, after nearly three and a half years as a POW came the good news from their Japanese interpreter.

"He couldn't speak very good English," Ponder recalls with a laugh.  "He come up to our outfit and he says, 'The war between your country and my country has stopped.' That's the way he put it.  We didn't' have to ask him who won. We knew that. And that was a happy day."

Ponder came home with a Bronze Star -- and a prayer that was answered.

"I came back all in one piece," he says. 

Ponder says he was fortunate.  Other than being hungry all the time, he says his treatment as a POW wasn't too bad.  His forced work as a carpenter and a hand in a locomotive factory wasn't too hard.  He earned college degree at Northwestern State University, and worked in industrial trade education, and eventually made principal, before retiring in Natchitoches in 1980. 

 

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