Seeds Planted, Stories Told: Paul Sailer, Author of “I Had a Comrade”

Veteran and author, Paul Sailer helps preserve tales of courage and comradery.

By Bill Lewis | Photos By David Bowman

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What do White Pines and World War II relationships have in common? They’ve both been carefully cultivated by Paul Sailer. Since 1983, Sailer has been successfully planting and harvesting those white pines, Norway pines, balsam firs, eastern larches, white spruces and black spruces on his 85-acre tree farm in Wadena County, Minn.

Tree Farmer standing next to a tree in the woods

Paul Sailer

In addition to harvesting the trees, Sailer has also made good use of the paper they produce by writing historical nonfiction books about fighter pilots flying missions over France and Germany. His latest effort, “I Had a Comrade,” is a study of the lives of the men, their families and even the people caught in the crossfires of battle in Europe.

Sailer came by both vocations honestly. He planted trees on his father’s farm as a boy, and heard many war stories from those who lived it. “My father served with the Eighth Air Force in England during World War II,” he says. “Sitting with me and my siblings on a winter’s night, he would talk about his war experiences while showing us his scrapbook and memorabilia.”

Sailer says he also saw through veterans’ eyes how the war affected rural families. “Many of the young men and women who served in the military and in defense plants came from farming and ranching country. Few returned to rural America.”

After college, Sailer enlisted in the U.S. Army. He flew helicopters for a year in Vietnam. Back home, he’s had a long career in the human services field … and tree farming.

Today, he uses a Massey Ferguson® 2605 and its many attachments for mowing trails, creating fire breaks, removing large rocks, lifting logs and clearing snow in the winter. And while studying the war lives of the Greatest Generation remains a passion, when the weather permits, a perfect evening now is, he says, “Enjoying a cup of coffee with my wife on the front porch of our home as a gentle breeze whispers through the trees we planted all those years ago.”