November 27, 2011

Author Q&A: Peak experience

Donn Fendler, who famously was lost for days on Mount Katahdin as a young boy, co-writes his story in graphic novel form.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Donn Fendler is 85 years old, but he will be forever remembered for what happened to him when he was 12.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

From left, Lynne Plourde, Donn Fendler and Ben Bishop. Plourde and Fendler co-wrote and Bishop illustrated the “Lost Trail” graphic novel.

Courtesy photo


TODAY: Book signing, 3 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 9 Marketplace Drive, Augusta; 621-0038

MONDAY: Presentation and signing, 6:30 p.m., Stearns High School, 199 State St., Millinocket; 723-7020

SATURDAY: Presentation and signing, 10 a.m., Guy E. Rowe Elementary School, 219 Main St., Norway, in conjunction with Books N' Things; 743-5183

DEC. 6: Signing, 5 p.m., Maine Coast Bookshop, 158 Main St., Damariscotta; 563-3207

DEC. 7: Presentation and signing, 6 to 8 p.m., Auburn Public Library, 49 Spring St.; 333-6640

DEC. 8: Presentation and signing, 5 to 7 p.m., Newport Cultural Center, 154 Main St.; 368-5074

DEC. 10: Signing, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., main lobby, L.L. Bean flagship store, 95 Main St., Freeport; (877) 755-2326

Fendler was a Boy Scout from Rye, N.Y., who got lost for nine days while climbing Mount Katahdin during a camping trip with family and friends in 1939. His dramatic story -- it was considered a miracle he survived -- was turned into the classic book "Lost on a Mountain in Maine."

Fendler became something of a celebrity after his rescue at a remote camp owned by a Mr. and Mrs. McMoarn, and even received a Legion of Merit medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the past 20 years, Fendler has visited numerous schools to talk to children about his experience.

Now his story has become a graphic novel, "Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness" (Down East, $14.95). Fendler co-wrote the book with Lynn Plourde of Winthrop, author of more than 25 children's books. It was illustrated by Ben Bishop, a comic book artist and illustrator who lives in Maine.

Fendler retired as a lieutenant colonel after 30 years with the U.S. Army, and today splits his times between Clarksville, Tenn., and Newport. He has four children and six grandchildren.

Q: Looking back, after this happened, did you have a lot of "if onlys?" If only you had stayed in one spot, or if only you had kept trying to make a fire

A: I did a lot of stupid things that I probably today regret. But I never sat down and said, "Gee, I should have done this," unless I'm talking to somebody about it, or they're asking me questions.

Q: You stayed in the hospital for a week after you were rescued. How long did it take for you to fully recover?

A: Oh geez, well actually I recovered in the hospital fine with the little scratches and the bruises and all of that, but it took a while to get my feet back in shape. They were the ones that were really beat up and cut. And my one toe was pretty well beat up. I took big chunks out of it. And the weight. So a couple of months, maybe.

But other than that, I had no bad dreams. I had no flashbacks. I had gotten no broken bones, no diseases. No physical or mental scars. It's like a doctor said in Mr. McMoarn's cabin, "Donn, you don't look too bad for someone who's been lost for nine days." And I said, "What?" And he said, "What I mean is, you have no life-threatening problems."

Q: What was it like returning to normal life afterwards? You became something of a celebrity for a while, didn't you?

A: Oh, it was unbelievable. I don't know, maybe there wasn't that much to write about then, but it was one award after another, and it was culminated, really, by getting a medal from the president, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Oval Office.

Q: You never seemed to give up hope that someone would find you.

A: That's one thing I really insist on telling the kids. I never thought about dying for one single second. It never entered my head. I always knew I would find somebody. I just knew it. And I just wouldn't give up. I had a good will to live, I think that's what it was. I think that's true of all young kids. They just don't know how tough they are until they come up against a situation like that and then they find out how tough they are in the heart and the mind, and they won't give up. They'll fight to survive.

(Continued on page 2)

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