Guest Opinions

This Idaho Day, remember WWI veterans like Pvt. Hansen, Pvt. Neibaur and Cpl. Buckles

A U.S. Army 37-mm gun crew in September 1918 during the World War I Meuse-Argonne Allied offensive in France.
A U.S. Army 37-mm gun crew in September 1918 during the World War I Meuse-Argonne Allied offensive in France. AP

“Idaho Remembers” is the 2018 theme for Idaho Day — March 5 this year — honoring members of the armed forces from Idaho who served during World War I, which ended 100 years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

One on the most inspirational memorials to that war can be found within the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in Idaho Falls, a sacred space hardly changed in a century, with a soft glow coming from its honey-oak furnishings and a hundred shades of color reflected by its stained-glass windows. Within that beautiful glass are etched the names of members of the congregation who served in the Great War, as it came to be known, with gold stars marking the names of those who gave their lives.

I knew several of those men. Marshall Scott owned a book store on Broadway, and Don Wilson, a drug store on Boulevard, with a classic soda fountain and jukebox, where all the high school kids gathered and danced during the 1940s.

Many of my friends, neighbors and teachers were veterans of the war. Leland Hansen lived just down the road from our farm on Iona Road. Each year he would visit my history classes at Bonneville High, dressed in his World War I uniform, and tell stories of sacrifice and heroism he witnessed while serving in France. Leland barely survived the war. One evening following an enemy artillery barrage, he burrowed into a pile of sawdust to sleep, only to wake in the early morning with a dangerously high fever, later diagnosed as the deadly flu sweeping through his division. Leland related that had it not been for a young French nurse providing constant care, he would have surely died.

Delusional and in a dreamlike state of semi-consciousness, he was aware of her image and countenance hovering over him day and night, for days, until he began to heal and she was transferred to another aide station. Pvt. Hansen never saw the woman again and never learned her name. He wept often, yearning to meet and thank the young woman who saved his life.

Now all the World War I veterans are gone and their children will soon pass, leaving the third generation to tell their stories. With the death of Cpl. Frank W. Buckles in 2011 at age 110, America’s last World War I veteran was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, and the Great War has begun to slip from memory. Even its most heroic participants are seldom remembered.

For his heroic actions on an obscure hill in France on Oct. 16, 1918, where he singlehandedly repulsed a German attack while being wounded four times by machine-gun fire, Thomas Neibaur was the first person born in Idaho to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Welcomed after the war by the governor, a parade and 10,000 people at his homecoming in Sugar City, he gradually faded from public memory and was overwhelmed by sickness and misfortune. Three of his nine children died in accidents.

Mangled in an industrial accident at a sugar factory, Thomas was unable to work for long periods of time, leaving his family desperate during the Great Depression. His wife, Lois, died in 1940 shortly after he finally found employment as a security guard at the Capitol in Boise. Thomas died three years later of tuberculosis, aggravated by old war wounds. He was only 44; his family dispersed, with three sons placed into orphanages.

Sadly, Thomas Neibaur is seldom remembered, but on Idaho Day, we honor Pvt. Neibaur and all those men and women from Idaho who served during World War I, and all who have ever served in the armed services of the United States of America. Today we remember.

Linden Bateman is a former member of the Idaho House of Representatives.

What is Idaho Day?

In 2014, the Legislature established Idaho Day to commemorate the creation of the Idaho Territory by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Idaho Day is held on March 4, or the 5th if the 4th is a Sunday, as it was this year.

‘We’re in this life together’

Every time the country has called, Idaho men and women have stepped forward to serve. They have been supported by their families, friends and neighbors. Those who returned were treated with respect and appreciation. Those who did not have been treated with honor and dignity.

Idahoans should use Idaho Day as a time to reflect on how we can appreciate our fellow citizens and gain confidence to meet the future. We have gotten overly contentious and need to be respectful of those whose opinions differ from ours. Issues should be discussed on their merits, not on the perceived failings of their proponent. Leaders should lead, rather than going along to get along. People should not regard reasonable compromise as dirty business.

One of my favorite political sayings is attributed to President Lyndon Johnson: “Don’t spit in the soup, we all gotta eat.” Let’s rely on our strengths as one people and overcome our weaknesses.

Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones