SUGAR CITY — The Deseret News honored Sugar City’s World War I veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Pvt. Thomas C. Neibaur on Friday. It did so in an article entitled “Another Greatest Generation: BYU’s Saints at War Conference explores Latter-day Saint connections to the Great War.”
In the article written by Trent Toone, the story notes the Saints at War Conference that was held Saturday in Provo, UT. It also talks about a new book called “Saints at War: World War I” written by Saints at War project director and Brigham Young University professor Robert C. Freeman and Andrew Skinner.
Freeman and Skinner spent seven years working on the book that details Latter-day Saint soldiers’ service during the “Great War.” This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of the war.
According to the book, 25,000 American Latter-day Saints served in World War I and seven hundred of those men died in battle. The book also reports that several hundred German members of the Church fought for their country during WWI and that 75 of them died. Latter-day Saints from Canada, New Zealand and Australia also served in the war.
American Latter-day Saints serving overseas during World War I included Hugh B. Brown, William J. Critchlow, Delbert L. Stapley, S. Dilworth Young and Sugar City’s Thomas Neibaur.
Neibaur received the Medal of Honor following his heroic actions during the Battle of Arden on Oct. 16, 1918.
“(Neibaur) became the first Church member to be awarded the Medal of Honor. His unit, the Rainbow Division, faced some of the most brutal fighting of the war in France,” wrote Freeman and Skinner in their book.
No other military medal proves more impressive and significant as does the Medal of Honor. The military only awards it to service members who exhibited great and extraordinary bravery during combat, reports Military.com.
“The highest form of recognition service members can receive for their actions against the enemy force, the Medal of Honor serves as a sign of distinguished valor,” the webpage stated.
While on patrol in Arden, Neibaur and three fellow soldiers came under intense enemy fire. Neibaur’s two friends died instantly while he suffered four leg wounds. Neibaur told his story that’s told online via the BYU library archives webpage. In that, he tells of volunteering to attack the Germans, and how two friends offered to go with him.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Shortly after, Neibaur looked up to see 45 German soldiers headed his direction. Neibaur turned his automatic rifle toward the advancing enemy soldiers and fired 50 shots at the German soldiers.
“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 15 Germans still alive,” he said.
The enemy soldiers advanced toward Neibaur and shot at him. One bullet got Neibaur in his right hip. The bullet remained there for the rest of his life.
“The shot stunned me for a minute, and I fell on my face in the mud,” he said.
The Germans continued until Neibaur’s fellow soldiers got the enemy in sight and shot at the approaching Germans. While the shots failed to hit the enemy, it so frightened them that they quickly hid from the Americans. In the meantime, Neibaur crawled back to get his pistol.
“I got hold of it, then stood up and called to the Germans to hold up their hands. They came out of their shell holes and rushed at me with fixed bayonets,” he said.
Neibaur then fired seven shots toward the enemy that wounded four of them.
“All this time I was calling on them to hold up their hands. When they saw that four of the 15 had been killed, the other 11 threw up their hands. I took them back to our lines,” he said.
Neibaur was all of 18 years old.
For his efforts, General Black Jack Pershing presented Neibaur with the Medal of Honor on Feb. 2, 1919.
According to historian Paul H. Kelly, Neibaur joined the Idaho National Guard in March 1917 just before the country entered World War I. Shortly afterward, the Army inducted Neibaur into active duty. By October of that year, the Army assigned Neibaur to the 41st Division of the National Guard, from the Western United States, where he served as an automatic rifleman.
The Army initially stationed Neibaur at Camp Mills in Long Island, New York, but by February 1918, Neibaur landed in France with the 42nd Rainbow Division. Kelly reported that then Maj. Douglas MacArthur named the group such because its servicemen were from all over the United States apparently making them a “Rainbow” of military members.
Neibaur’s unit served in various “combat rotations” and eventually fought in the Meuse-Argonne campaign in the fall of 1918. At that point, the Army put Neibaur and his fellow soldiers in charge of capturing a hill called Cote de Chatillon. It was there that Neibaur fought in the battle that earned him the Medal of Honor.
The Liquisearch.com webpage reported that Neibaur spent several months in field hospitals where he recovered from his wounds. He returned home to Sugar City on May 27, 1919.
“(He) was welcomed by a throng of some 10,000 people, celebrating a state-wide holiday proclaimed by the governor who was in attendance at ‘Neibaur Day,’” the webpage reported.
Neibaur later married Sarah “Lois” Shepard in November of that year. In addition to Shepard’s son from a previous marriage, the Neibaurs went on to have nine children.
Sadly, Neibaur experienced tragedy after tragedy following his return home.
In 1928, a cutting machine at the sugar factory where he worked mangled his arm so badly that workers there were forced to disassemble the machine to free Neibaur’s arm.
In the ensuing years, the Neibaurs suffered the death of three sons to accidents. The couple’s 18-month-old son drowned in an abandoned cesspool in 1925. Eight years later, the couple’s two-year-old died following a car accident. In 1937, the Neibaur’s six-year-old son died after suffering an infection that resulted from burns received from a wood-burning stove.
During the Depression and by 1939, the Neibaur family found themselves destitute. While Thomas Neibaur received a small pension for his war service and served as a clerk for the Works Progress Administration, the income wasn’t enough to care for his family.
About this time, U.S. Senator William Borah tried passing a law that would have promoted Neibaur to a retired Army major. Such a move would have increased Neibaur’s pension, but Borah’s efforts failed.
“Discouraged by his misfortune, Neibaur mailed his Medal of Honor and other decorations to Congress in Washington stating that ‘I cannot eat them,’” the webpage stated.
Local newspapers learned about what happened and reported the story. Three days after the story broke, Boise State Capitol officials hired Neibaur to work as a security officer.
In 1940, Lois Neibaur died, and the following year, Thomas Neibaur married Lillian Golden. Not long afterward, a Walla Walla Washington veteran’s hospital treated Thomas Neibaur for tuberculosis. He died there from the disease on Dec. 23, 1942, at the age of 44. This left four young Neibaur sons orphaned.
Following Thomas Neibaur’s death, he was buried next to his first wife, Lois, in the Sugar City Cemetery. Congress later returned Thomas Neibaur’s medals to his second wife, Lillian, who donated them to the Idaho State Historical Society.
Fast forward to 2003, and during Sugar City’s Centennial, city officials named a city park after Neibaur. Five years later, Neibaur descendants and the city placed a monument dedicated to Neibaur at the park that bears his name.
In a Standard Journal article written by Joseph Law on July 23, 2008, Law reported that Neibaur descendants raised $10,000 to create the memorial. The park is located on Center Street, east of the gray Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building.
Sugar City’s then Mayor Glenn Dalling was also quoted in the article and said that the monument was a way to help remember Neibaur’s sacrifices.
“There’s no doubt that Thomas Neibaur was a true hero and a Medal of Honor winner,” said Mayor Glenn Dalling. “We also want to pay tribute to the veterans who have served from the Sugar City area.”
Several other Sugar City men served during World War I, and that included a contingent of men serving in what was called the “Forestry Battalion” while in Europe. These engineers built roads, cut down trees and built huge mills supplying millions of board feet of lumber. That lumber was used to build trenches, barracks and piers for ships to dock in.
One of those men serving in the group was Samuel “Whit” Whitney Pincock. According to the keepapitchinin.org webpage, the Army drafted Pincock, who was then 29 and single.
Officials ordered the battalion to set sail for Europe in February 1918 on the British Luxury Liner, the Tuscania. On Feb. 5, while sailing through a narrow straight connecting Ireland and Scotland, a German U-Boat torpedoed the ship.
Pincock had just sat down for dinner when the torpedo hit the ship. Pandemonium ensued as boilers exploded, shooting flames 200 feet heavenward. Freezing cold water gushed onto the ship, and the ship started to tilt, reported the webpage.
“When we got hit, the rest of the convoy left as fast as they could, leaving three destroyers to help us out. They went around dropping depth charges for some time,” Pincock wrote in his biography.
He noted there weren’t enough lifeboats and those few available contained only half of the soldiers they could have, leaving around 1,350 men still on board the sinking Tuscania.
The Navy destroyers later returned and plucked sailors out of the ocean. Those still on the Tuscania crossed via a rope between wounded ship and the destroyers.
“One destroyer came in alongside the ship and took off a load of men. Then another one came. I got off on the third one,” Pincock said.
Pincock managed to find a rope that he stretched from the ship to the deck of the destroyer.
“We crossed over that. It took all of the men,” he recorded.
The Tuscania sank at 10 p.m., four hours after the U-boat, U-77, torpedoed it. Around 204 men perished in the attack. It was the first ship to be sunk while carrying American troops, the webpage reported. Three Idahoans died in that attack.
Despite the tragedy, Pincock continued on to the Le Havre, France Forest and stayed there throughout the war.
“(Pincock) eventually returned home to Sugar City, Idaho, where he married and raised a family of six children, never setting foot on a ship again,” wrote the webpage.
Rexburg man Michael Logto also served during World War I. Sadly, Logto died the very day the Armistice was signed, Nov. 11, 1918. He served with the 81st Division, 324 Infantry Regiment and is buried in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France.
World War I started in 1914 after Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated. The United States joined the conflict on April 6, 1917. The country was motivated to fight after learning that the Germans tried partnering with Mexico against the United States. Shortly after learning that, President Wilson declared war.
The war ended in November 1918. Yet, as the war came to an end, the Spanish Flu continued the killing by infecting its deadly virus throughout the world.
Very few people got through that era of history unscathed, reported the Encyclopedia of World War I on its webpage. The Spanish Influenza pandemic spread throughout the world from 1918 to 1919. It killed 50 million people within an 18-month period.
Returning World War I soldiers, who managed to survive the war, later succumbed to the Spanish Influenza while returning to the United States.
“This pandemic was connected to World War I, both in terms of how the war shaped the pandemic and vice versa,” said the webpage and concluded that “The Great War and the Great Flu were inextricably interwoven with each other.”
To honor World War I veterans and other service members, St. Anthony residents paid homage to Upper Valley residents during the rededication of the Doughboy statue at Keefer Park on Monday.
In 1922, the Fremont County Commissioners commissioned the Doughboy to be built and placed in Keefer Park.
Doughboys served as infantrymen during World War I.
“Indelibly tied to Americans, ‘doughboys’ became the most enduring nickname for the troops of General John Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces, who traversed the Atlantic to join war-weary Allied armies fighting on the Western Front in World War I,” writes worldwar.org.
Fremont County officials dedicated the Keefer Park Doughboy on May 30, 1922. Then seven-year old Elise Gardner unveiled the statue. Such proved especially poignant for little Elise as her father, John Anthony Gardner, was the last Fremont County man killed in World War I. He died in combat on Nov. 9, 1918 — just two days before the war ended.
St. Anthony Mayor Donald Powell said Monday’s turnout proved a good one. He hoped that the many school children attending would take an interest in World War I and would realize that many people fought and died to keep St. Anthony and the rest of the country free.
Powell noted how St. Anthony has a huge connection to the independence Americans now enjoy.
“St. Anthony has a worldwide tie-in with freedom. That Doughboy reminds us about that,” he said.
For more information on Idaho’s contribution during World War I, visit www.idahoworldwar1centennial.org. To read more about Neibaur in the Deseret News, visit https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900041212/another-greatest-generation-byus-saints-at-war-conference-explores-latter-day-saint-connections-to-the-great-war.html.