Wadena author Paul Sailer recently received the 2012 Aviation Writer of the Year award for his book “The Oranges are Sweet.”
At the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame annual banquet in Bloomington in April, Chairman Tom Schellinger, a retired Northwest Airlines captain, said of Sailer’s book “is a wonderful reliving of the life of Maj. Don M. Beerbower. . . . It goes far beyond the combat aspect of the war and delves into the human aspect of just what goes into making a true patriot.”
Beerbower, from Hill City in Aitkin County, was Minnesota’s highest scoring fighter pilot in World War II with 18 1/2 aerial and ground victories.
The Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame Writers Award honors writers from Minnesota who have written about aviation topics of interest to everyone.
Sailer and his wife, Lois, live on a tree farm in rural Wadena County. He received his bachelor’s degree from Moorhead State College in 1969 and went on to receive his pilot ratings from the U.S. Army Advanced Flight School at Fort Rucker, Ala. in 1970. He flew the UH-1D “Huey” and the OH 58A Kiowa helicopters in Vietnam during 1970 and 1971.
During his teenage years, Sailer started to develop a serious interest in WWII pilots and their airplanes, which led him to the Army and learning to fly, Schellinger said at the award ceremony in April.
“After serving a tour in Vietnam, Paul settled into a routine of pursuing a career in the human services field back here in Minnesota,” Schellinger said. “It wasn’t until 1995, when our country commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII, that Paul again started to seriously think of ‘the great war’ and all that went on during that time.”
Sailer began his book research in 1998 and began writing in 2007 depicting Beerbower’s life and the men of the 353rd Fighter Squadron. Beerbower was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000.
“Paul, in his book, tells the story of this much decorated fighter pilot from his early days growing up in Northern Minnesota to his 15 1/2 kills while flying the P-51 Mustang in Europe between January and August of 1944,” Schellinger said.
Not only does it talk about the man, Schellinger said it develops the story of growing up in a small town, starting a family, answering the call of the armed services and becoming a military fighter pilot, but details the history of the 353rd Fighter Squadron and many of its members.
“I would highly recommend ‘The Oranges Are Sweet’ to anyone wishing to look back on the history of WWII and what it was like to live in that time,” Schellinger said.
In prepared remarks, Sailer thanked the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, Beerbower’s daughter and son-in-law Bonnie and Norley Hansen and Beerbower’s nephew George Hankerson and the extended Beerbower family.
“Without their support and that of my family, especially my wife, Lois, I could not have written the book,” Sailer said. “It is a moving experience for me to have my writing recognized by fellow pilots and those interested in aviation.”
Sailer’s father, an Eighth Air Force veteran, grew up in Hill City.
“I remember as a child sitting next to Dad while he paged through his scrap book,” Sailer said. “In it, he had a photograph of his high school basketball team. Next to him stood the team mascot, 11-year-old Don Beerbower. Pointing to Don, my father said, ‘This boy became a real hero.’ I was drawn to the image of the youngster peering out of the photograph at me. I listened with rapt attention as Dad told me about Don’s skill as a fighter pilot and his subsequent loss of life. This, by the way, is when I fell in love with the P-51 Mustang.”
Sailer said he grew up listening to stories of the war and the home front.
“When I met Don’s widow, Elayne, in 1998, it dawned on me that his brief, valiant life was on the cusp of being forgotten,” he said.
After researching Beerbower’s military career with the support of Elayne Beerbower, Sailer said they submitted Beerbower’s name for induction into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame. Building on relationships established through that effort, Sailer interviewed surviving members of the 353rd Fighter Squadron and started his manuscript.
Young people of the war years had confidence and hope, Sailer said.
“In 1942, when gloom hung over the world, the very talented English vocalist Vera Lynn, sang a popular song that many here remember, ‘The White Cliffs of Dover.’”
The English cliffs were a landmark to returning pilots. Sailer closed his comments with the opening verses of the song, saying:
There will be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover,
Just you wait and see
There will be love and laughter and peace ever after,
When the world is free
“The Oranges are Sweet” is available in locally at Book World and the Wadena and Aitkin historical societies.