Private Thomas Neibaur was born in Sharon, Idaho, a tiny community north of Paris, and grew up in Sugar City. The actions for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor sound like those of a cinema super hero.
Wounded four times, Neibaur was captured by German troops after falling unconscious from his injuries. Awakening, he saw that the Germans had taken cover from heavy fire. He also saw that they had dropped his semi-automatic pistol on the ground nearby. He crawled to retrieve it. Enemy soldiers saw what he was doing and charged him with bayonets. He killed four of them, then captured the remaining 11 German soldiers, escorting them back across the American line.
General John J. Pershing presented Private Neibaur the Medal of Honor—often incorrectly called the Congressional Medal of Honor—at the request of President Woodrow Wilson.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Neibaur held the French Croix de Guerre, the French Legion d’honneur, the French medaille militarie, the American distinguished service cross, the Italian La Croce al Merito di Guerra, and a Purple Heart.
Neibaur was treated as a hero, of course, when he returned to his home in Idaho. Governor D.W. Davis was on hand when Sugar City celebrated their favorite son on May 27, 1919. Some 10,000 people came out to honor him on “Neibaur Day,” proclaimed so in Idaho by Davis.
Neibaur, who would carry a German machine gun bullet in his hip until his dying day, lead a life that contained much trauma. His four bullet wounds led the list, joined by the pain of losing three sons to accidents, then having his arm mangled in a sugar factory accident.
Those pains were not all he endured. As the Great Depression was winding down, Neibaur found that the small pension he received along with his Medal of Honor and the $45-a-month paycheck he received for working as a clerk in the Works Progress Administration office in Boise were not enough to feed his large family. His income in 1938, including a $300 disability pension, was $900. Frustrated, he mailed his Medal of Honor to Senator William E. Borah with a note that said in part, that he “couldn’t eat it.”
Years earlier, Borah had proposed that Congress enact a measure promoting Neibaur to the rank of major and awarding him $2,200 in annual retirement pay. The bill failed that time, and again in 1939 when the Senate committee where the bill was introduced rejected the motion.
Three days after the story appeared in local papers Neibaur was given a job at the Idaho statehouse as a night security guard, helping his financial situation.
Thomas Neibaur died from tuberculosis in 1942 at the age of 44 at the Veteran’s Hospital in Walla Walla. His medals were returned to his wife, who in turn gave them to the Idaho State Historical Society.