Lost and Found

One of Maine’s modern-day folk heroes is a man by the name of Donn Fendler.  Way back in 1939 when Mr. Fendler was only 12 years old, he became separated from his family on a hike while descending Maine’s tallest and most challenging mountain, Mt. Katahdin.  Hundreds of volunteers, rangers, and the National Guard, plus trained dogs and airplanes, joined the search to look for him.  After two days, the search was deemed a recovery mission because no one believed he could have survived the extreme conditions on that mountain.  Mothers all over America sent prayers via telegram (“They did that in those days,” said Mr. Fendler).

After seven days, only a few searchers remained.  Miraculously on his own, after nine days, Donn Fendler walked out of the woods and made his way to a rustic cabin that was fortunately inhabited at the time, and he was rescued.  He weighed 74 lbs at the start of his adventure and 58 lbs nine days later.  Only a couple of days into his wanderings he had lost his shoes (which had been torn to shreds by sharp rocks) and his jeans (which had been soaked by rain, sleet, and streams).  Although he had multiple abrasions, sunburn, and was covered head-to-toe in bug bites, and the only thing he had consumed was water from streams and some wild strawberries he’d found along the way, he was in remarkably good condition despite his ordeal.  From the point where he got lost until the cabin where he was found is a distance of 48 miles – as the crow flies.  It is estimated that he traveled between two to three times that distance in his wanderings while looking for someone to save him.

Donn Fendler credited two things for his survival:  his Boy Scout training, which besides some basic wilderness skills,  taught him to “keep his head;” and more significantly, his belief in G0d.  During his ordeal he prayed daily, sometimes for lengthy periods.  He prayed for four things:  that God should not let his parents worry too much; that G0d take care of his surviving siblings; he prayed for food, and he prayed that someone should come and rescue him.   He later recounted his story to author Joseph Egan, whose book, told in Donn Fendler’s voice, is required reading even to this day for every school child in Maine.  It is called “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” and I highly recommend it!  It’s appropriate for children ages 10 – 13, but it will also leave adults spellbound.  It is a great book for reading aloud.

After his rescue President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented him with the Army & Navy Legion of Valor’s annual medal for outstanding youth hero of 1939.  Donn was feted with a parade in his honor, and featured in an article in Life Magazine.

Even though Mr. Fendler is now 85 years old, he still visits schools all around Maine every year to retell his remarkable story.

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