LOUIS CUKELA, USMC
* The rank on Maj Cukela’s citations is incorrect. He was promoted to gunnery sergeant on 1 July 1918 but his warrant was not received in the field until 20 August 1918, possibly leading to the use of the incorrect rank.
Major Louis Cukela was awarded both the Navy and Army Medals of Honor for extraordinary heroism in France during World War I. The same act of heroism also brought decorations from France, Italy, and his native Yugoslavia.
Louis Cukela was born in Sebenes, Austria (what is now Sibenik, Croatia), on 1 May 1888. He was educated in the grade schools of Spalato, then attended the Merchant Academy and later, the Royal Gymnasium, both for two year courses. In 1913, he emigrated to the United States and he and his brother settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
On 21 September 1914, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was serving as a corporal in Company H, 13th Infantry when he was honorably discharged on 12 June 1916.
Seven months later, on 31 January 1917, with war raging in Europe from a spark touched off in Serbia, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Following the United States’ entry into the conflict, he went to France and took part in all the engagements in which the 5th Regiment fought.
He was awarded both Medals of Honor for the same action near Villers-Cotterets, France, on the morning of 18 July 1918, during the Soissons engagement. The 66th Company, 5th Regiment, was advancing through the Forest de Retz when it was held up by an enemy strong point. Despite the warnings of his men, GySgt Cukela crawled out from the flank and advanced alone towards the German lines. Getting beyond the strong point despite heavy fire, “Gunny” Cukela captured one gun by bayoneting its crew. Picking up their hand grenades, he then demolished the remaining portion of the strong point from the shelter of a nearby gun pit. The Marine took four prisoners and captured two undamaged machine guns.
The famous Marine was wounded in action twice but since there is no record of either wound at the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, he was never awarded the Purple Heart. The first wound was suffered at Jaulny, France, on 16 September 1918 during the St. Mihiel engagement and then was wounded again during the fighting in the Champagne sector. Neither wound was serious.
In addition to the two Medals of Honor, he was awarded the Silver Star by the Army; the Medaille Militaire (he was the first Marine officer ever to receive this medal), the Legion d’Honneur in the rank of Chevalier, the Croix de Guerre with two palms, another Croix de Guerre with silver star, all by France; the Croce al Merito di Guerra by Italy; and Commander’s Cross of the Royal Order of the Crown of Yugoslavia. He also received three 2d Division citations.
He received a field appointment to the rank of second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve on 26 September 1918 and was selected for a commission in the regular Marine Corps on 31 March 1919. Promoted to first lieutenant on 17 July 1919, he was advanced to the rank of captain on 15 September 1921. His promotion to major was effected on the day of his retirement, 30 June 1940.
After the war, he served at overseas bases in Haiti, Santo Domingo, the Philippines, and China, and at domestic stations in Quantico, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Norfolk, Virginia; Hampton Roads, Virginia; Mare Island, California; Washington, D.C.; Nashville, Indiana; and Fort Knox, Kentucky.
From June 1933 to January 1934, Capt Cukela served as a company commander with the Civilian Conservation Corps. His last years in the Marine Corps were spent at Norfolk, where he served as the post quartermaster. Retired as a major on 30 June 1940, he was recalled to active duty on 30 July of the same year. During World War II, he served at Norfolk and Philadelphia. He finally returned to the inactive retired list on 17 May 1946. Maj Cukela served just a few days shy of 32 years of active duty in the Army and Marines.
On 19 March 1956, Maj Cukela died at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland. Following services at St. Jane Frances de Chantel Church, Bethesda, he was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, 22 March 1956.
Major Cukela had the following decorations and medals; Medal of Honor (Navy); Medal of Honor (Army); Silver Star; Victory Medal with Aisne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and Defensive Sector clasps and three silver stars; Haitian Campaign Medal; Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal with one star; Yangtze Service Medal; American Defense Service Medal; American Area Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Medaille Militaire; Legion d’Honneur; two Croix de Guerre with two palms; Croix de Guerre with Silver Star; Croce al Merito di Guerra; Commander’s Cross of the Royal Order of the Crown of Yugoslavia; and the French Fourragere.