Louis Cukela

Louis Cukela received Medal of Honor twice in World War I

By Alex Boucher
via the VAntage Point (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) web site 

Not all American service members are born in the U.S.; many emigrate from overseas to start a new life in America. Army and Marine Corps Veteran Louis Cukela, originally from the Austria-Hungarian Empire, fought in the Great War and was one of nineteen men to receive two Medals of Honor.

Cukela was born in the late spring of 1888, in the city of Split. His mother passed away when he was young. Cukela acquired his education from various grade schools in Split, later attending the Merchant Academy for two years, and concluding at the Royal Gymnasium for another two years. He and his brother emigrated to the U.S. in 1913 as tensions grew within the Balkans and Europe. They settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while their father and three sisters remained in Austria-Hungary.

Cukela would begin his extensive military career on Sept. 21, 1914, when he enlisted in the Army. He served with Company H, 13th Infantry Regiment and later honorably discharged with the rank of corporal on June 12, 1916. With the war raging in Europe, Cukela enlisted into the Marine Corps on Jan. 31, 1917, prior to the U.S. joining the war. He served with the 66th Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. When America finally entered the war, Cukela deployed to France where he fought in every engagement that the 5th Regiment undertook. One of these engagements was the Battle of Belleau Wood, a renowned battle in the lore of the Marine Corps.

Cukela received a Medal of Honor twice for the same action during the Battle of Soissons: one from the Navy and the other from the Army. The action happened near Villers-Cotterets, France, on the morning of July 18, 1918. The 66th Company had advanced through the Forest de Retz before they were stopped by a sturdy German force. Ignoring the warnings of his men, then-Gunnery Sergeant Cukela crawled out from the flank before proceeding alone toward the enemy lines. Despite the barrage of heavy fire, Cukela pushed past the strong point and captured a machine gun by bayoneting the crew. He then picked up their hand grenades and demolished the remaining section of the strong point from the cover of the enemy gun pit. By the end, he had taken four prisoners and captured two damaged machine guns.

Due to a lack of any official record at the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, he never received the Purple Heart despite two wounds. He received his first wound on Sept. 16, 1918, in Jaulny, France, and his second during his time in the Champagne sector.

Read the entire article on the VAntage Point web site.

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