BANGOR, Maine — Donn Fendler retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel and has lived many years in Tennessee.
It’s a good bet that most people in the Pine Tree State don’t ask him much about that.
Instead, they want to know, “How did you do it? How did a 12-year-old boy keep his wits about him while lost on Mount Katahdin for nine days — and survive?”
It’s a story Fendler’s been telling for years, first in the book he co-wrote with Joseph Egan, “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” but never made any money from.
Then in the countless visits he’s made to Maine schools in the spring and fall bracketing summers in Maine.
And now for the public, in his annual free presentation at Cole Land Transportation Museum, 405 Perry Road, Bangor.
Fendler will make his annual appearance at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, at the museum.
In July 1939, the Fendler group was on top of Katahdin when a storm broke out. Donn and another member of the group had started back down ahead of the others before getting separated.
Young Donn covered an estimated 35 miles over the next nine days alone, surviving on berries, losing his clothing and seeing his sneakers cut to shreds by the sharp rocks.
Scared, at times hallucinating, the nearly naked youngster weighed just 58 pounds when he finally came out of the woods near an occupied hunting camp.
On Sept. 19, Fendler will talk about what got him through that harrowing nine days — including his Boy Scout training and his faith in God — and show the brief video state Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan made in 2006 while flying with Fendler in a helicopter over the terrain where he was lost so many years ago.
Museum founder Galen Cole, who also was on that flight, remains as fascinated with Fendler’s story as anyone and remembers well when it happened.
“I was his age,” Cole recalled recently. “For a 12-year-old boy to read in the newspaper about a 12-year-old boy on Mount Katahdin, getting lost in that huge area, was pretty startling — at least to me, and to other kids I talked with.
“To continue to read about it in the newspaper heightened the interest,” he said. “Then to read he was found was even more startling.
“Every time he comes to this museum, he enlightens me further, and everyone who hears him,” Cole said.
Fendler’s visit to the museum is an anticipated event this time of year, one more piece in what he calls the “giving back” to the Mainers who searched for him and worried about him and prayed for his safe return.
Countless people who went to school in Maine, many now grown with children of their own, can tell you about Donn Fendler coming to their school to speak to their class about his experience and about keeping your wits when something like that happens.
His talks to kids in late spring or early fall have been at the invitation of teachers, many of whom use the book he co-wrote as a resource or even read it to their class.
Fendler will tell you that it’s the teachers of Maine who got “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” back in print and have kept it there for years and years.
The museum will have plenty of books available for purchase at $6 each the day of Fendler’s visit. Those attending are also welcome to bring their own copy.
Ideally, they’ll also bring a youngster or two who will latch onto Fendler’s story and want to read about it themselves.