Happy Veterans Day! Today we honor all those who have served to protect the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy. Thank you to all veterans. We here at Special Collections honor your sacrifice and are grateful for it. Thank you for your fearless service.
Following is the story of Thomas Neibaur, the first Idahoan who received the Medal of Honor. He was also the recipient of the Purple Heart. His story has deeply touched those at Special Collections and illustrates the sacrifice of our soldiers.
Thomas Croft Neibaur of Sugar City, Idaho, enlisted in the Idaho National Guard shortly before the start of World War I. This action later placed him “somewhere in France.” Stating in a letter to his mother on June 10, 1917, Neibaur wrote,
Well dear mother I am not sorry that I joined when I did altho I am very young and have had no experience away from home but still I feel that I am serving my country and I feel as if that was the next thing to serving my God.
Neibaur was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic acts during the war.
Neibaur was first stationed in Boise and then Sandpoint, Idaho. He routinely wrote home, encouraging his family while also sharing his love for them. On June 2, 1917, he wrote from Sandpoint,
I sure would like to be back home with you again, but still I realize that I am serving my country in time of need, and I remember the words of Sir William Wallace, ‘God armeth the patriot.’
Neibaur went from Idaho to New York then New Jersey for training. He reached France sometime early in 1918, and was transferred to an existing division made up of individuals from the South. Missing his old company, he remarked of his new comrades on April 18, 1918, “Of course they are good fellows and all that but still they have different ways that seem a bit funny to me.”
Neibaur would also mention briefly “a few pretty exciting times” in the trenches, which surely worried his family as is apparent when he wrote from “somewhere in France” on May 28, 1918:
Now dear mother do not worry because I tell you I have been to the trenches as there is not much danger the worst thing is the gas and we have good gas masks to protect us. The only thing is getting them on in time.
On October 1918, Neibaur wrote home what must have been startling news to his family. He opened the letter mentioning that he hadn’t received any recent correspondence from home, probably because the post was slow and because he had “been on the front for a long time then got wounded and am now in a hospital nursing a leg with three machine gun wounds in it.” Later in the letter, Neibaur briefly described how he got injured:
Say folks I sure had quite an experience I was captured and was in the hands of the Germans for about half an hour but I watched my chance and when they were not looking I recovered my gun and took ten of my captives prisoners after I was wounded three times.
In Còte de Châtillon, Neibaur had volunteered with two others to take out a pocket of German machine guns. After some action where his two companions were killed and he injured, Neibaur, while injured, was able to take out several Germans until his gun jammed. Upon retreating, he was eventually captured, but, as described in his letter home, found an opportunity to make his captors the captives. It was that action that brought him the Medal of Honor, presented by General Pershing himself. On January 3, 1919, after several months of recovery, and what must have followed several less-than-detailed letters home, he wrote,
I suppose you were very much surprised to hear that I received a medal for bravery but you know you never did get me excited about anything and I always had a cool head.
Neibaur came home to much celebration, he being the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–and the first Idahoan–to receive the country’s highest honor. He married Sarah Shepard, and together they had nine children. In 1928, he was injured in an accident in a sugar beet factory, leaving him crippled for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, with this handicap and the small pension given by the military, Neibaur was unable to support his family. In 1939, he mailed his Medal of Honor to Congress, stating, “I cannot eat them.” Thomas Neibaur died in 1942 and is buried in the Sugar City cemetery.
BYU-Idaho’s Special Collections and Archives is fortunate to hold several original letters from Neibaur to his family. The passages above are all taken from these letters. To read the letters, visit Special Collections & Archives, room 220 in the McKay Library, and ask for manuscript collection 98 (MSSI 98: Thomas Neibaur Papers). You can view the finding aid online here: Neibaur Papers
This post adapted from a 27 June 2014 post. View the original post here.
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