Memorial Day marks last time Franklin family saw beloved soldier

Courtesy: Leslie Ponder

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – While Memorial Day is an opportunity to stop and remember those who died while serving our country, for one Franklin family, the day also marks the last time they saw their loved one.

Master Sgt. Tre Ponder died while trying to rescue fellow soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan several years ago. He was one of 16 servicemen who died when a helicopter was shot down during a mission to rescue Navy SEALS.

His wife Leslie told News 2 Memorial Day 2005 was the last time they were together as a family.

“We spent a whole weekend on the beach at Tybee Island and just spent family time; took him to the air field that morning, it was actually Memorial Day morning, and he deployed and less than a month later he was killed,” she recalled.

She and Tre were high school sweethearts.

Courtesy: Leslie Ponder

“It’s precious memories, that’s what I just, I thank God for that time,” Leslie said.

The two married in 1994 and later brought two little girls into their world.

“Daddy was always gone, so it just felt like daddy was always gone,” she said.

Ponder was a Special Forces soldier with the 160th Night Stalkers based at Fort Campbell.

“His job was in the 160th. He was in charge of safety and standards,” said Leslie.

Ponder and 16 other servicemen died when their chinook helicopter was shot down. They had volunteered to attempt a daylight rescue mission for trapped Navy SEALS.

“They went to what they thought was a safe landing zone, it was actually a Taliban hideout and the Taliban came out shot out an AROG into Tre’s helicopter, brought the helicopter down and all 16 on board were killed. There were eight Night Stalkers and eight Navy SEALS,” Leslie explained.

As tragic as the incident is, Leslie says she looks towards God to get the family through.

Courtesy: Leslie Ponder

“As crazy as this is going to sound, even if we had the power to bring him back, we wouldn’t, because he has seen the face of God and we know where he is and we know one day we are going to be reunited and we take comfort in that,” she said.

Today a wooden cross made from a tree that was part of the Taliban hideout where Ponder died hangs in his family’s home.

“I was not going to let evil win and that was part of the evil that the Taliban wanted and I turned it into something beautiful, because overall God is going to triumph and he is going to win.”

Leslie said her family takes time to reflect on Memorial Day and thanks all of those who have sacrificed so much for us.

“People say that they will never be forgotten and this means the world to me that he’s not forgotten and we are not forgotten, because there are times that you do, you feel alone you feel. You just feel alone so the fact that almost 12 years later he’s remembered does mean something, so thank you.”

The book and movie, “Lone Survivor ” are based on Sgt. Ponder’s last mission.