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The Oranges are Sweet  

by Paul M. Sailer, Loden Books, Wadena, Minn., 2011, $34.99.

A helicopter-qualified Vietnam veteran living in Wadena County, Minn., Paul Sailer found a local hero to celebrate in county resident Don Beerbower, an original member of the “Pioneer Mustang Group,” the 354th, as well as commander of its 353rd Fighter Squadron and the group’s second-ranking ace with 15½ victories before he was killed by anti-aircraft fire on August 9, 1944. Instead of merely writing a biography, however, the author researched Beerbower’s life and times, to place them in the context of World War II. It was, after all, the 354th that introduced the Merlin-engine North American P-51B Mustang to the European Theater of Operations, ironing out its bugs even while its pilots were proving its worth as a long-range escort fighter. In the course of presenting Beerbower’s contribution to that process, he traces the squadron’s history, aided by recollections of surviving members who flew with, knew and universally admired Beerbower.

The result (the title is based on the radio code sign for good flying weather) is a densely packed, day-by-day history of the highest-scoring American squadron in the ETO, which steps back at regular intervals to reveal numerous personalities who flew the missions even while focusing on Beerbower. The Oranges Are Sweet is more than a biography, even if its conclusion with Beerbower’s death stops it short of being a unit history. An invaluable supplement to any complete history of the 354th Fighter Group, it’s a compelling read in its own right.


Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.