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His Amazing Survival in 1939 Became a Kids' Classic

Donn Fendler, author of 'Lost on a Mountain in Maine,' is dead at 90
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2016 8:46 AM CDT
His Amazing Survival in 1939 Became a Kids' Classic
In this Oct. 15, 1940 file photo, Boy Scout Donn Fendler, of Rye, N.Y., is honored by President Franklin Roosevelt with a gold medal for valor at the White House.   (AP Photo, File)

(Newser) – Donn Fendler was big national news back in 1939: The 12-year-old got separated from his family on a hike up Maine's highest mountain and became the subject of an increasingly desperate search. As the New York Times recounts, mothers across the US sent his mother prayers via Western Union. Incredibly, nine days after he went missing, an exhausted Fendler found an occupied hunting camp in the woods—about 35 miles from Mount Katahdin—and was returned to civilization. Fendler's story is making headlines again in the wake of his death at age 90 last weekend. His account of how he survived is retold in his children's book Lost on a Mountain in Maine, which the Bangor Daily News notes became required reading for the state's fourth-graders. One smart move: The Boy Scout found a stream and kept following it, his brother tells Maine Public Radio.

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“There were plenty of times I wanted to give up and just say the heck with it," Fendler himself recalled in the documentary Finding Donn Fendler. "Like those last few days. But you just keep going. Like I told you, it’s your will to live." Along the way, he lost his jeans and his shoes, fell down an embankment, and was feasted upon by mosquitoes. Prior to finding the hunting camp, "he came across an old cabin and there was a potato sack in there and a few other things that he could use," says his brother. "But he ate berries and drank water and really didn’t have anything to eat, and he was below 70 pounds when they found him." (This popular children's author left a moving request upon her death.)

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