Thomas C. Neibaur
Pvt. Thomas C. Neibaur was the first member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to receive the Medal of Honor for his valor on the battlefield.
Neibaur was born on May 17, 1898, in Sharon, Idaho. When he was eleven years old, his family moved to Teton, which is near Sugar City, Idaho. Throughout his life, his family remained faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ, but Neibaur did not actively participate.
On March 30, 1917, Neibaur enlisted into the Idaho National Guard. The United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917, and he was inducted into service on April 8. He served in the Rocky Mountain Northwest and guarded tunnels and railroad bridges until October of that year when he and his regiment was ordered to Camp Mills, Long Island. He became an automatic rifleman in the newly organized 41st Division of western states guardsmen. The 41st Division later deployed to France. He and thousands of other western guardsmen were transferred to other divisions and he was assigned to Company M, 167th Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Division.
By March 1918, he was serving on the Somme River where the 42nd Division was part of the French 7th Army. By June, Neibaur had fought in several campaigns. During this time, he was wounded or incapacitated temporarily by German mustard gas.
In August, Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur assumed command of the 84th Infantry Brigade, which included Neibaur’s 167th Infantry Regiment. “In early September General John Pershing, commander of the AEF, received permission to "reduce" the salient that had developed for several years at Saint-Mihiel, southeast of Verdun. Beginning on September 12, 1918, the American 1st Army under Pershing commenced an offensive, the first independent American offensive in its own sector of the Western Front.” Within days, the crumbling German army was thrown back and the salient was reduced causing a "straightening" of the front line.On September 26, Neibaur’s 167th, 3rd Battalion, was part of the Americans’ second offensive between the Argonne Forest and the Meuse River. On October 16, 1918, the American attacks captured Cote de Chatillon, although pockets of German units remained. Neibaur recalls what happened:
- On 16 October we were in a position facing a small round knoll. To the right was a nest of German machine guns shooting down on us, and we could not advance until that nest of machine guns was cleaned out.
The Captain called for volunteers to attack the Germans. I volunteered, then my two companions stepped out and said they would go with me.
- We crawled to the top of the hill, where we encountered barbed wire entanglements … in getting over this wire entanglement I was shot through the thigh of my right leg three times, but no bones were broken. My machine–gun loader and scout were both killed at this wire fence. I dragged myself along the mound of dirt to where I was comparatively safe.
- When I looked up, I saw about forty–five Germans coming toward me. I quickly turned my automatic rifle on them and fired about fifty shots. The Germans got so close that I could see there was no chance for me to get them all, so I made an attempt to get back over the shell holes to my company. After I got away from the protection of the pile of dirt, I was in plain view of the fifteen Germans still alive. They kept advancing, shooting as they came. I was hit with a ball in my right hip, which passed into the left hip and there remains to this day. The shot stunned me for a minute, and I fell on my face in the mud.
- The Germans continued up the hill until the boys of my company saw them and fired a volley at them. None of the Germans were killed, but it scared them and they got down out of sight. I crawled back to my pistol which they had not picked up. I got hold of it, then stood up and called to the Germans to hold up their hands. They came out of the shell holes and rushed at me with fixed bayonets. There were seven shots in my pistol. I shot the four Germans in front, and all this time I was calling on them to hold up their hands. When they saw that four of the fifteen were killed, the other eleven threw up their hands. I took them back to our lines.
Neibaur spent several months recovering from his wounds in field hospitals. On February 9, 1919, at the AEF headquarters at Chaumont, France, Gen. John Pershing presented the Medal of Honor to him, along with a dozen other officers and soldiers. He returned to Sugar City, Idaho, on May 27, 1919.
Neibaur married Sarah “Lois” Shepard in November 1919. She had one son from a previous marriage and they had nine children together. Three of their sons died from accidents. Neibaur worked at a sugar beet factory where his arm was severely mangled in a cutting machine. Workers disassembled the machine to free his arm. By 1939, during the Depression, Neibaur was destitute with a small pension from his Medal of Honor and working as a clerk for the Works Progress Administration. A U.S. Senator tried to help him by getting a law passed in Congress promoting Neibaur to the rank of major in the Regular Army and placing him on the retired list, but his attempt failed. Tragically, Neibaur mailed his Medal of Honor and other decorations (including a Purple Heart) to Congress stating “I cannot eat them.” Local newspapers carried his story and days later he secured a position as a night security officer at the state capitol in Boise.
Neibaur’s wife died in 1940 from complications of rheumatic fever from her childhood. He remarried in 1941 and sometime soon afterward entered a veterans’ hospital in Washington State. He died from tuberculosis on December 23, 1942. His four young sons were sent to an orphanage in Michigan.
His medal and decorations were returned to his widow, Lillian, who donated them to the Idaho State Historical Society. Thomas C. Neibaur Veteran Park in Sugar City is named in his honor.