Related story: All could learn something from ancestors
The seed for Sherman Fleek’s book, “Saints of Valor: Mormon Medal of Honor Recipients,” was planted on a lazy summer morning in 1967 when he was kid.
His father promised to take him out for breakfast, but first, they had one stop to make. They drove to South Clearfield Elementary School for a special ceremony honoring Maj. Bernard Fisher of the U.S. Air Force.
“Why was the main guy — the guy they talked so much about — why was he wearing a medal around his neck?” Sherman asked his father. “What was that thing?"
“Sherman, that is the Medal of Honor,” his father replied.
About 45 years later, Sherman Fleek is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. who serves as the Command Historian at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Fleek is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has authored several books and articles related to military history. He wrote “Saints of Valor” in order to highlight the lives of nine Latter-day Saints who received the highest decoration the United States can bestow on a person.
“The compelling stories of these LDS Medal of Honor awardees need to be told to secure their memory and their sacrifices for the future,” Fleek wrote in the introduction. “Hopefully, generations will come to know and appreciate these brave warriors, imperfect as they may be, and will continue to inspire others as they inspire us today.”
Here is a brief glimpse into the nine men and their stories, plus one extra LDS Medal of Honor recipient Fleek discovered after his book was published. You can find “Saints of Valor” (Greg Kofford Books, $29.95) wherever LDS books are sold.
Pvt. Thomas C. Neibaur
Neibaur, of Sugar City, Idaho, was the first Mormon to receive the Medal of Honor. He enlisted in the Idaho National Guard a week before the U.S. declared war against Germany in 1917. He became an automatic rifleman and was deployed to France in World War I, where he was assigned to the 167th Infantry Regiment.
On Oct. 16, 1918, Neibaur volunteered with a patrol to take out a German machine gun nest at the top of a hill. While crawling up the hill, enemy fire killed his two companions and left Niebaur with three wounds in his right thigh. The Germans saw him and approximately 45 men charged. Neibaur opened fire with his automatic rifle, killing and wounding many. Then his gun jammed. He tossed it aside and retreated back down the hill. He was wounded a fourth time in the hip and fell unconscious.
When he awoke, he found himself surrounded by 15 Germans. Supporting fire from his fellow troops scattered the Germans and allowed Neibaur to pick up a pistol. The Germans charged him with bayonets and he killed four of them. He captured the remaining 11 and led them to American lines below.
Neibaur’s story has a sad ending. In 1939, discouraged by misfortune and unable to feed his family, Neibaur mailed his Medal of Honor and other decorations back to Congress, stating, “I cannot eat them.” Within three years, both he and his wife died and their four sons were sent to an orphanage in Michigan. His awards and decorations were eventually donated to the Idaho State Historical Society.
Fleek wrote a book about Neibaur in 2008 titled “Place the Headstones Where They Belong: Thomas Neibaur, WWI Soldier.”
Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion
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