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'I Had A Comrade': Sailer pens second nonfiction book

Paul Sailer knew he wanted to write a second book before he was even finished with his first. The Frazee and Perham area native was waist-deep in historical research for "The Oranges Are Sweet," a biography of Minnesota-born World War II fighter ...

Paul Sailer knew he wanted to write a second book before he was even finished with his first.

The Frazee and Perham area native was waist-deep in historical research for "The Oranges Are Sweet," a biography of Minnesota-born World War II fighter pilot Don Beerbower, when he realized he had enough material to tell plenty of engrossing stories in addition to Beerbower's.

Like that of Wah Kau Kong, Beerbower's well-liked wingman, who died protecting a straggling bomber aircraft as it tried to return to England from Germany - sacrificing himself to save the 10 crewmembers inside the bomber.

Or Beerbower's college friend and fellow Army Air Forces cadet, Glenn McKean, who was tragically killed in a crash during pilot training.

Or Maria Koehler, who spent her teenage years living in Nazi Germany before marrying a Minnesota man and relocating to rural New York Mills, where she still resides.

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In all, there are 10 previously untold stories of people with first-hand experiences of WWII included in Sailer's new book, "I Had a Comrade."

Subtitled, "Stories About the Bravery, Comradeship, and Commitment of Individual Participants in the Second World War," the book is a meticulously-researched and fact-filled exploration into the emotional and life-lasting ways in which war changes people. Beerbower is a common thread that connects the stories, as is the book's underlining theme of comradeship.

In an interview last week, Sailer described comradeship among soldiers as, "a willingness to sacrifice your life for somebody who you don't know, but they wear the same uniform, and you know that they would do the same thing for you."

That feeling extends beyond the battlefield, he added, affecting the parents, spouses, children and other friends and family of those on the ground; the people who remain on the homefront, playing supportive roles during war time and worrying about their loved ones on the front lines.

"This book, to some extent, is a companion to the first book," Sailer said of 'I Had A Comrade.' "The first book is a biography of one person, Don Beerbower. This book is 10 stories, and Beerbower is a part of all those stories, because these are all people who knew him. In fact, the airplane on the book cover was Beerbower's first airplane."

The other plane on the cover is Wah Kau Kong's, a nod to the significance of the new stories told in "I Had a Comrade."

Sailer, the son of Air Force veteran Archie Sailer, learned about WWII at an early age through the recollections of his father. Later, the younger Sailer served in the military himself, piloting helicopters in Vietnam. Those experiences, combined with an innate interest in American history, led him to research and eventually write the story of Don Beerbower.

Sailer met Beerbower's widow in 1998, the author explained. She told him about her husband's bravery during the war, and his record-setting number of aerial victories. As she talked, Sailer realized that, "this outstanding fighter pilot was on the verge of being forgotten."

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He didn't want that to happen.

After some initial research, Sailer decided he had enough new information about WWII aviation "that it would be of value to put it to paper," he said.

He scoured WWII-era journals and historical archives before writing "The Oranges Are Sweet," and also interviewed a host of characters for the book. Most of them had known Beerbower personally, or were close to someone who did.

It didn't take Sailer long to figure out that their stories were worth telling, as well.

"The idea of comradeship came to me while writing 'The Oranges Are Sweet,'" he said, "because I had experienced this level of emotion when I was in Vietnam, and I hadn't experienced it again since then until writing 'The Oranges Are Sweet.' So I decided two years ago to put together the stories of these people, and to let them talk about comradeship."

The book is timely, released on the year of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which marked America's entrance into WWII. The anniversary will bring WWII and its remaining veterans back into the public spotlight again, Sailer said, "for what may be their last time."

One of those veterans, Richard E. Cole, wrote the forward to Sailer's latest book. Now 100 years old, Cole was a pilot in WWII who met Sailer in 2014 as a fellow VIP guest and speaker at the North Air Expo in Eden Prairie, Minn.

He writes of Sailer's book: "Paul explores comradeship through the stories of ordinary people who lived or died during World War II. The reader will meet pilots, ground crewmen, soldiers, POWs, parents, siblings, wives, girlfriends, and children from France, Germany and the United States. All of them had their lives altered by that intense form of duty toward others that is exemplified in 'I Had a Comrade.' These stories of courage and love are worthy of our remembrance."

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Sailer will be holding a book signing at Bev's Book Nook in Perham on Saturday, Sept. 3 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Now retired from a career in human services, he lives on a tree farm in rural Wadena with his wife, Lois.

Related Topics: EVENTS
A writer, editor and mom of four (two kids, two dogs), Marie's been in the newspaper business for over 20 years. She started at the Detroit Lakes Tribune in 2017 after working just down the road at the Perham Focus for several years. Before that, she was at the Herald-Review in Grand Rapids, Minn.
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