Chasing a fallen hometown hero

Wadena man pens book about a legend from Hill City, his old stomping grounds.

The world of publishing can be as murky as a foggy day in the lakes country. We writers start first with inspiration, connections, and the inescapable need to share stories. Then, we look for ways to send it out into the world. The seed for Paul Sailer’s book, The Oranges are Sweet, was planted when he was just a boy. He heard stories of the local World War II fighter pilot, Major Don Beerbower, and wondered who he was. Where did he grow up? Who were his friends? And, what drew him out of his small community of Hill City, Minnesota and up into the skies over Europe? These wonderings and stories seeped into Paul’s own experiences until he was ready to bring to light the accomplishments and sacrifice of Minnesota’s leading ace with 18.5 aerial and ground victories. The author, Paul Sailer, grew up in the Frazee/Perham area, and his father was from Hill City. While looking through a scrapbook, he asked his dad who the boys were in the photo. His dad pointed to a picture of the basketball team and a 10-year-old team mascot named Don Beerbower, and said, “This boy was a real hero.” His own father, Archie Sailer, was a chemical warfare officer in World War II. Paul heard war stories from his father and his comrades in arms. He watched as they paid tribute to fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, and he learned the importance of honoring and remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Paul Sailer’s love for aviation stemmed from hearing stories about Major Beerbower from his father. He enlisted in the Army’s aviation program in 1969, trained in helicopter flight school, and advanced to fly the Bell OH-58A Kiowa and US-1D Iroquios/Huey during a one-year tour in Vietnam. Since Paul’s military service, he has pursued a career in Humans Services in Ottertail and Wadena Counties. He and his wife, Lois, have raised two daughters and a son. In 1998, Paul felt a renewed spark to bring Don Beerbower’s story to light. He started making connections. One of them was Don’s widow, Elayne Beerbower. Because of Paul’s knowledge of Hill City and his own experiences in aviation and the Vietnam War, he had the trust of Don’s friends and family. They readily shared their stories of him, and Elayne offered to let Paul read Don’s diary. The Oranges are Sweet is filled with personal letters, diary entries, photos, and detailed experiences of the times in which Don lived, served, and died. This book is more than one man’s legacy. It is the history of a community, and a representation of our nation. The war years sent young men out to do or die, to kill or be killed. Young women were sent to participate or patch them up, and the rest of the community was left at home to wait and worry. Paul said that he is thrilled with how well his book is received by those who have served in the military and the families who had connections to Don Beerbower and the 353rd Fighter Squadron who served with him. Paul was able to attain intimate details of the times. He said that one of his favorite chapters to write was on the crossing from the US to England on a British merchant vessel, Athlone Castle, because it offered an opportunity to write about the role of the Navy. He even included details about one of the pilots from Hawaii, lieutenant Wah Kau Kong, who had a constant craving for chocolate and would crawl into his shipmate’s room with outstretched hand, begging for a morsel of chocolate. Kong was a ham and added much levity to the crossing and humor as they all sailed into their war duties. When Paul began to search out ways to have his book published, he approached the staff at the Minnesota Historical Society, who offered good advice for the author. They told him to be sure to include the community where Don grew up and his relationships. This is what keeps the reader’s attention. The missions and descriptions of the aircraft are for the people who are in the military or who are involved in aviation. The stories of who these people were and their lives are for everyone. Paul decided that the best way for him to publish would be to create his own publishing company, Loden Books, hire his own editor, Jonathan P. Eastman, artist Ron Finger, and designers, Chip and Jean Borkenhagen at River Place Communication Arts, and print it locally at Brainerd’s Bang Printing. “When you sell your manuscript,” explains Paul, “you give up control of the content and layout. I knew what I wanted The Oranges are Sweet to look like. I wanted coated paper for sharper images, a hardcover with a sewn binding for endurance, and a jacket cover and maps that pleased the eye.”  He said, “The book is a memorial to the life of a major American ace, Don Beerbower. I didn’t want to publish his biography using low quality materials.” Of course, self-publishing means you have all the control, but it also means that you take all the risk. Paul hopes to break even on his investment. But, money aside, he has already experienced the rewards of his labor. He has put the book into the hands of family members of the deceased pilots. He has brought to light the accomplishments and sacrifices of the 353rd Fighter Squadron, the unit that led all United States Army Air Force squadrons in aerial victories in World War II. People from all over the globe are reading about these times that might otherwise have been forgotten. Paul’s biggest hope is that the young people of today will read his book and feel a connection to the young people who fought and died during World War II, that they’ll see that Major Beerbower and his colleagues are like them in so many ways, but from a different time. They dealt with a serious international threat that is similar to the terroristic threats we experience today. Maybe we’ll regain that feeling of a united nation that was so present during the 1940’s, or maybe we’ll simply keep the memory alive and appreciate the freedoms we have today because of the sacrifices of yesterday. The airfield in France, near where Major Don Beerbower was shot-down and killed, is planning a memorial for the summer of 2014, and Paul plans to attend. While this story is about men who flew and fought in the clouds, the book itself will not soon be there. Paul’s vision does not include electronic publishing of his book. He wants to keep it in its bound and tangible form. He wants the readers to feel the smooth paper, view the 200 images and 12 colored maps, run their hands over the embossed cover, and smell the fresh ink, as they are pulled into the story of the pilots, their lives, and the people who loved and mourned them. More information about the author and The Oranges are Sweet can be found at www.lodenbooks.com. You can also order books through this website or ask for it at your local bookstore.

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