Lost on Katahdin, 1939 - Donn Fender
In the summer of 1939, 12-year-old Boy Scout Donn Fendler became separated from his hiking companions in the fog on top of Katahdin and was lost for nine days.
His story swept the nation. The whole country turned its attention to tiny Millinocket.
His memoir, Lost on a Mountain in Maine, has been read by generations of Maine school children.
The story of the search for Donn Fendler is a testimony to the generosity and kindness of the people of the Katahdin region and beyond. Men from the local paper mills poured out of the mill gates and into the woods. They searched day and night for nine days. Local Boy Scouts joined the search. Mothers across the country sent hundreds of telegrams to his mother, offering prayers and support.
The New York State Police dispatched bloodhounds by airplane to help the search.
His father and uncles joined the searchers every day while his mother and her best friend stayed as guests of Camp Natarswi, a Girl Scout camp on Togue Pond.
Hopes waned as days went by. The girls were not allowed to sing "Taps" at the end of the campfire each night because "all was not well."
Nine days later, after walking more than 80 miles, he wandered into a camp where an elderly couple cared for his injuries and bug bites. He called his mom. They took him by canoe to Grindstone and then by ambulance to a hospital in Bangor. His story ran on the front page of the New York Times and was featured in Life magazine. He received the Army and Navy Legion of Valor medal from President Roosevelt. Parades were held in his honor. The nation celebrated.
Donn Fendler returned to his everyday pre-teen life. He went on to study Forestry at the University of Maine and served in the Pacific Theater during WWII. He trained as a Green Beret and served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division.
He came to Maine every summer, eventually retiring here. Despite his ordeal, he loved Baxter State Park. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Millinocket over 30 who has not met him personally and heard his story firsthand at a school assembly. Fendler passed away in 2016 at the age of 90. Maine has named July 25, the day he was found, Donn Fendler Day.
He gave generously of his time and told his story in person to thousands of school kids in Maine at school assemblies and events.
LOST ON A MOUNTAIN IN MAINE is the triumphant true story of 12-year-old Donn Fendler, who becomes dangerously lost on Mount Katahdin, the tallest and most rugged peak in the State of Maine. Over the course of nine days, Donn wanders over eighty miles, fighting for his life in the unforgiving mountain forest. Donn's father, emotionally distraught but relentless in his efforts, manages to garner national attention toward the search for his son, including support from the Governor of Maine, President Roosevelt, and thousands of families nationwide. On the brink of death, facing unimaginable adversity, Donn crawls out of the woods with a new understanding of the true power of faith, family, and the will to live. Having entered the woods as a boy, he finally leaves a man.
Clip from documentary Finding Donn Fendler
Maine Historical Society Event on the 75th Anniversary of his being found. The beginning has no sound.
Listen to the entire book, "Lost on a Mountain in Maine."