July 18, 1918: Marine Mustang From Croatia Earns Medal of Honor

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“I am Cukela. I attack.”

 

 

Louis Cukela immigrated to the US from what is now Croatia in 1913 at the age of 25.  His English would always be somewhat broken, but that did not prevent from becoming a Marine legend.  Initially he served in the US Army as a trooper, being honorably discharged in 1916.  He enlisted in the Marines on January 31, 1917.  By July 18, 1918 he was a Gunnery Sergeant with the Fifth Marines.  He would come out of the War with a Second Lieutenant’s Commission and a chestful of medals, including the Medal of Honor, four Silver Star citations;  from France he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, the Médaille militaire and the Croix de guerre 1914–18 with two palms and one silver star;  Italy decorated him with the Croce al Merito di Guerra;   and the newly formed state of Yugoslavia remembered their native son after the War with the Commander’s Cross of the Royal Order of the Crown of Yugoslavia.

He fought in every engagement in which the Fifth Marines were involved in France.  He earned the Medal of Honor on July 18, 1918 near Villers-Cotterets, France.  Here is his Medal of Honor Citation:

 

 

When his company, advancing through a wood, met with strong resistance from an enemy strong point, Sgt. Cukela crawled out from the flank and made his way toward the German lines in the face of heavy fire, disregarding the warnings of his comrades. He succeeded in getting behind the enemy position and rushed a machinegun emplacement, killing or driving off the crew with his bayonet. With German handgrenades he then bombed out the remaining portion of the strong point, capturing 4 men and 2 damaged machineguns.

Technically he received two Medals of Honor, one from the Army and one from the Navy.  Cukela stayed in the Corps, rising to the rank of Major and retiring in 1946.  He became famous in the Corps for his eccentricities, his mangling of English and his rough and ready humor.  Go here to read more about him.  A Roman Catholic, following a funeral Mass at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church, Bethesda, he was buried with full military honors at Arlington in 1956, his beloved wife joining him a few months after his death.  Apparently there was a lot to love about the old warrior.

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One Comment

  1. As always thank you for posts like the above. We need to be reminded of our brave men in uniform and their heroic exploits in the past and in recent times.

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