BUHL • When Onah Mohlenbrink first met her husband to be, she had no idea of the events he survived.
It wasn’t until four months into their relationship that he mentioned he was in WWII.
“I said, ‘I know something about Pearl Harbor,’” Onah said, as she sat in her Buhl home April 16, her dog, King, on her lap.
“I do too,” Onah said her husband, Gale Mohlenbrink, replied. “I was there.”
In 2011, Gale was one of a few local authors invited to present their works at the Buhl Public Library.
The book Gale presented was a self-published memoir of his life in the Navy. It was a project he started in 2009 and finished in 2010.
Gale probably didn’t know it at the time, but he is part of a growing number of first-time, self-published authors in the 65-and-older age group, according to a 2011 Seattle Times article.
The reason? The article credits the growing number of noncommercial memoirs to a desire felt by many older people to leave something for a younger generation. It’s also the affordable access to technology that enables production of professional-looking volumes without any need for the traditional publishing world.
On April 16, Gale, 89, was unavailable for an interview. Onah said he’s been ill for the past couple of months, but shared some insight into her husband’s memoir and the writing process. She couldn’t say that he exactly enjoyed the process, but said he liked the finished product.
“It made him feel like he contributed to what life was like 60 years ago,” Onah said.
Judy Hansen, an associate professor of developmental language arts and English at the College of Southern Idaho, said the simple act of recording daily life in a journal or memoir can be rewarding for a writer.
“Even if they never get it published at least their family members have that to look back at,” Hansen said. “It’s personally rewarding to write those things down, even keeping a journal, it is a way to go back and refresh your mind on things that have happened and gives posterity a glimpse of who you are.”
Hansen, who has a newspaper and magazine writing background, said she has noticed more authors taking the self-publishing route than in the past. Hansen also helped a friend and family psychologist write a parenting book.
“I think there’s more of that then there used to be, but if you want to be on the New York Times bestseller list you have to get a reputable publisher. That’s the hard thing to do yourself, promoting it (the book) yourself,” Hansen said.
Tips if you decide to self-publish a book or memoir intended for an audience other than your family?
Make sure you have an editor.
“It’s so essential,” Hansen said, adding unless you know someone who is a good editor, sometimes it’s worth it to hire one.
“I’ve read so many self-published books that are a mess, good story but so many errors,” Hansen said.
If the book is only meant for family, Hansen said there are a number of websites that will print your photographs and text in a book.
Hansen put together a picture book of her childhood for grandchildren using the website Snapfish. Hansen said her father has often complied family history books and made them available at family reunions. She said a lot of people today are also doing e-books.
“It’s fairly inexpensive to get an e-book, but how do you promote it and get people to read it? It depends on your goals,” Hansen said.
In the forward of Gale’s book, he wrote that after encouragement from his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, he finally gave serious thought to writing a book about his experiences.
What some may not know is that Gale’s story might not have been told if not for the support of his wife, Onah.
“When the men came home in ‘46-47, they came home, worked and kept their mouths shut. They didn’t want to relive it,” Onah said. “But he would talk to me, he told me a lot about the things in the war. He wouldn’t sleep that night when he retold those stories.”
After the Mohlenbrinks returned from a 2009 trip in Hawaii with their in-laws, Onah said she decided to sit in front of the computer and start typing.
“I actually did the writing. I had heard the stories, and he proofread it. He hated computers,” Onah said.
Onah said she would write all day and call him into the computer room, a room Gale wasn’t too fond of. Sometimes Gale liked what she wrote, other times he didn’t, Onah said.
“I’m an avid fiction reader and I like non-fiction. I’m a real history buff,” Onah said.
But she always made the changes he requested, even when she felt strong about her decisions.
After all, Onah said, it was his book, his story.
“He would say, ‘Sailors don’t speak that way,’ and I’d say, ‘Okay, I’ll change it, it’s your book,’” Onah said. “He brought the authenticity, the proper verbage.”
What unfolded was a tale of a 17-year-old young man who was assigned to the USS Northampton, a medium cruiser, back in 1941.
“I was sworn into the Navy in Salt Lake City, Utah, and got on a bus headed for San Diego Basic Training Camp. It was the first time I was ever away from my parents and home, so by the end of the first couple of days Iwas one homesick kid,” Gale wrote in the beginning on his book.
A 2011 Times-News article described Gale’s experiences Dec. 7, 1941, when “the Northhampton was out at sea. The then-18-year-old and a few shipmates were left at the harbor to perform maintenance on the captain’s gig, a small boat used to travel between the shore and the cruiser. Mohlenbrink was startled out of his slumber, like many other servicemen, by the sound of explosions. Topside, he saw low-flying planes, with a red sun on their wings, strafing the harbor and dropping bombs. The servicemen grabbed weapons, fearing an impending land invasion by Japanese forces, and kept watch through the night and into the next morning.”
When the book was complete, the Mohlenbrinks never considered taking the book to a major publisher because the book was initially written for their family.
They had 200 books printed by Blip Printers in Twin Falls for $3,000. They sold some of the books, gave away most, and made about half of their money back.
Onah said they designed the book from cover to back — choosing everything from the photographs to the paper it was printed on.
It was an expensive endeavor for the couple, but worth it. Onah said they received a good response from family as well as the community.
“We gave all the children a copy and had a very good response from people,” Onah said. “Actually we had really good sales, down to the last box. If I see a serviceman I give them a book, a gift from Gale if you know what Imean. I feel it’s better to have them out in the public than in a box.”
The Mohlenbrinks even sent a copy to journalist Tom Brokaw who wrote the book “The Greatest Generation,” which was about the generation that grew during the Great Depression and served in WWII. Brokaw didn’t respond to their letter or gift, but he also didn’t send the book back, which the family has taken as a good sign.
Onah said one thing she has learned from the book writing experience is that mature family members have to give serious thought to write down the interesting lives they have led for the benefit of future generations.
In the end, the individuals the book was written for —Gale’s children and grandchildren — were pleased to have the book. Onah said one of their grandchildren was so proud they took the book to school a couple of times to share the story of Gale Mohlenbrink, WWII Navy Veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor.