Book chronicles life of Les Sellers of Greencastle, bomber pilot downed in WW II

PAT FRIDGEN
Shirley Evans holds the book she wrote about Leslie Sellers and his wife Billie. Sellers survived seven months behind enemy lines in Holland during World War II. Everyday farmers and citizens hid him from the Nazis after his plane was shot down.

Les Sellers is one of 1.7 million surviving World War II veterans, and one of the 300,000 soldiers hidden by the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The Greencastle man is also one person in the Sunday School classroom of Hagerstown, Md. author Shirley Evans. He mentioned some of his wartime experiences and she started asking questions.

"We have known each other for many, many years through church," she said. "I didn't know he had been behind enemy lines for 214 days. He really didn't talk about it."

Evans prodded Sellers, who was reluctant to go into detail because it brought back so many harsh memories.

She pulled out enough information to realize "it was an amazing story. The Lord spoke to my heart to write his story."

While Sellers initially said no, he finally agreed to a series of interviews, and she was impressed with his recall, even down to specific conversations.

Today the resulting book, In the Shelter of His Wings, has just been released by McDougal Publishing in Hagerstown. It covers Sellers' military career, including when his B-24 was shot down in September 1944. The Air Force lieutenant was the co-pilot on his first mission. He was 25, eager for adventure, part of the crew of 10 planning to destroy a synthetic fuel plant. They did not accomplish their goal, and by nightfall Sellers was hiding in the woods.

Evans wove details of Sellers' life into the narrative, from his childhood to his activities today with wife Billie. At ages 92 and 86, respectively, they share a home on Milnor Road. Billie plays a prominent role throughout the book.

"It is the story of God's protection of Les during that time, and ever since, for him and Billie," said Evans. "He kept his sanity by remembering back home and his life."

She included examples of how Sellers believed God was instrumental in saving him from certain death. On jumping from the plane, his smaller-than-usual parachute got him to the ground more quickly, visible for a shorter time by the Germans. The spare shoes he had wired to the parachute, not his normal practice, became of prime importance when he lost one of his own upon landing.

"God gave him instructions along the way," Evan stated of his journey with the underground, peppered by many close calls of discovery. "His mother was a praying Lutheran woman, but his dad gave him up for dead."

Sellers was liberated in April 1945. He was reunited with Billie, the girl who kept hope that he would return.

The book completed, Sellers termed it "an accurate account of what happened. However, Shirley and Billie put in stuff I wasn't going to put in."

The women insisted upon including some humorous events, such as the Thanksgiving Sellers invited Billie to spend the day with his family and she said no. She changed her mind, but on the phone he was evasive, which led her to correctly surmise he had another girl at the table in her place. True love reigned, though, and the couple has celebrated 65 years of marriage.

"I think their love story adds a lot to the book," Evans explained.

Evans, 69, earned a master's degree in theology in 2007, and is director of Life Christian University, Hagerstown campus. She began interviewing Sellers that year, but set aside the project for two years when her husband Thomas became ill. He died in 2010.

In the Shelter of His Wings is available at Don Kline's Used Books and Collectibles, and Mikie's Restaurant, in Greencastle; and online at mcdougalpublishing.com and amazon.com