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Charly Haley, Published November 10 2012

Pilot inspiration for career and later a book

WADENA, Minn. – When Paul Sailer was growing up, his father told him stories of a friend he considered to be a true hero: Maj. Don M. Beerbower.

Beerbower, a World War II pilot, became a leading ace in aerial and ground victories before dying at age 22 in 1944.

Hearing stories about Beerbower inspired Sailer to become a war pilot in the Vietnam War.

“Because my father thought so much of his friend, I learned about him,” Sailer said. “I was just kind of inspired by his bravery and tried to emulate that with my own work in the military.”

Years later, Beerbower’s story sparked another inspiration for Sailer, a history alumnus of Minnesota State University Moorhead. He started research in 1998 for a biography of Beerbower, and last November “The Oranges are Sweet” was published.

Sailer, now 65, of Wadena, has received positive feedback for the biography. It is being featured during Veterans Day ceremonies today at Iowa State University in Ames, where Beerbower will be honored as an alumnus and veteran.

Sailer researched the book – 480 pages with 200 images – from 1998 to 2007. He wrote it from 2007 to 2011.

“I work a day job (as human services director for Wadena County), and so I’d work on it only a couple of hours a day,” he said.

“The Oranges are Sweet” is unlike other biographies because it not only tells Beerbower’s story, Sailer said, but it tells the story of the people who waited and didn’t get to see him return from the war. They included his wife, his then-1-year-old daughter and other residents in their hometown of Hill City, Minn.

“When someone dies in war, we remember them on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but we tend to forget that these people have families,” Sailer said.

He described how Beerbower’s widowed wife never remarried, and their daughter grew up without a father. He said Beerbower’s parents had expected their son to come home and work in the family creamery.

Sailer added that there are many other people who have lost loved ones to war and can identify with Beerbower’s family.

Sailer interviewed Beerbower’s wife and other Hill City residents during his research for the book. He also interviewed 15 pilots and referred to military records and Beerbower’s own journal entries and letters.

“A lot of research went into the book so that people can get a picture of what it was like to fight that type or warfare,” Sailer said. “There are an awful lot of details, and I think that allows readers to see what times were like.”

“The Oranges are Sweet” was accepted by the Minnesota Historical Society as part of its permanent collections division, Sailer said, “because it’s about a significant Minnesota person and tells not only about his life experiences, but about his home community, Hill City, during the Depression and the war.”

The book was also selected as the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame’s 2012 “Book of the Year.”

Sailer donated a copy of the biography to the Minnesota State University Moorhead library.

The book is for sale at lodenbooks.com.

Sailer said people should try to learn about the stories of veterans like Beerbower.

“It’s really important in any society to remember stories of courage, and that’s what this story is,” he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311