INDIANAPOLIS — Just as there are plenty of fish in the sea, there are plenty of places to get lost near Fort Benjamin Harrison, especially when you’re just 5 years old.
That’s exactly what happened to Christopher Powers and Dale Bear II 40 years ago this month.
“Me and Chris, the kid from upstairs, wanted to go fishing,” Dale Bear II recalls. “My dad always took me fishing. I actually caught my first fish on Fall Creek.”
Bear was no stranger to Fall Creek.
“I would’ve taken my Snoopy pole, but dad had the fishing poles in his truck,” Bear said. “We grabbed some string and some sticks and we went through the woods behind Fall Creek Apartments.”
That’s where Bear and Powers lived. The pair was under the supervision of Bear’s grandmother, who was watching the kids from an apartment balcony.
“She figured we were just in the woods, right behind the apartment,” Bear said.
But little did grandma know the boys had ventured across Fall Creek Road and made their way down into the woods of Fort Ben.
“We went across an area where it was like a little land bridge,” Bear said. We didn't realize that it was surrounded by a stream. So when we tried to leave the forest, we kept running into the stream.
After just a few hours, it became obvious the boys were missing. More than 100 people began searching for the boys that evening including Marion County Sheriff K9 officers.
WRTV reporter Clyde Lee spoke with the distraught mother of Christopher Powers.
“He’s a good kid most of the time,” Sandra Olbrich said. “He usually does what we tell him. He doesn’t take off like this. He’s shy, he doesn’t talk to strangers. I don’t know where he could be.”
Powers and Bear also didn’t know their whereabouts.
“I mean, obviously I was 5, I didn't know my bearings very well at the time,” Bear said. “We were starting to get a little cold and I was the only one with a jacket. Chris had a short sleeve shirt on, so I gave him my jacket.”
Bear remembered his father telling him to use straw or hay to keep warm, which is exactly what they did. Bear says he and Powers could hear people searching for them including his very own father.
“I could hear him on his motorcycle screaming my name,” Bear said. “I knew it was him because I was infatuated with the motorcycle, so I knew what it sounded like.”
Bear says although the boys could hear searchers, their young voices weren’t powerful enough to make it out of the forest.
Additional searchers eventually joined the effort to find the boys, including some 250 troops from Fort Benjamin Harrison. Just after 10 a.m. the following morning, some of those troops found the boys.
“Out of the blue, we hear some people walking through the forest,” Bear said. “I remember seeing the Army, it was a bunch of Army folk. I just ran up to the to the lady. I remember giving her a real big hug.”
The troops provided the boys with fresh fruit and blankets. Everyone was greeted by cheers and applause when they emerged from the forest. The boys were transported to the hospital on the base to be checked out.
The boys were reunited with their families after missing for more than 18 hours.
Christopher Powers asked his mom for a Big Mac Pack from McDonald’s. Bear had a similar meal.
“My dad bought me a Whopper,” Bear said. “I ate the whole Whopper and I fell asleep in his water bed.”
Decades after that fateful fishing trip, Bear became a father himself.
“I'm sure I was a little bit more strict with boundaries and stuff like that, than a normal parent would be because of my situation of getting lost," Bear said. “I understand the connection that you have with your children a lot more than when I was a little kid. It was really hard for me to see my dad cry for the first time. Dad was always this macho guy. My friends always called him Popeye because he had huge huge forearms.”
While Bear lost his father about 6 years ago, he still holds onto the memories they shared.
“I've got every single picture that he used to have of me growing up and one of the things that was in the pictures was a laminated copy of the newspaper printed. I miss that old man.”