Major, United States Marine Corps
at Sabenes, Austria, on May 1, 1888, he is a double recipient of the , one by the Army and one by the Navy for the same action
in World War I.
He was serving at the time as Sergeant, 66th Company, 5th Marine Regiment at Villers-Cotterets, France.
He was the last double receipient of the Medal
of Honor to die when he passed away at the Naval Medical Center at Bethesda,
Maryland, on March 19. 1956. He was buried in Section 1 of Arlington National
Cemetery. His wife, Minnie Strayer Cukela, who died on August 10, 1956,
is buried with him.
Major Louis Cukela, who was awarded both the Navy and Army Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism in France during World War I, was a native of Croatia. The same act of heroism also brought decorations from France, Italy, and his native Yugoslavia.
Louis Cukela was born at Spalato, Crotia, on May 1, 1888, son of George and Johana (Bubrich) Cukela. The major was educated in the grade schools of Spalato, then attended the Merchant Academy and later, the Royal Gymnasium, both for two year courses. His mother died in 1900. In 1913 Major Cukela emigrated to the United States and he and his brother settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father and three sisters remained in Serbia.
On September 21, 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 June 12, 1916.
Seven months later, on January 31, 1917, with war raging in Europe from a spark touched off in the major's native 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 Marines fought.
He was awarded both Medals of Honor for the same action near Villers-Cotterets, France, on the morning of July 18, 1918, during the Soissons engagement. The 66th Company, 5th Marines, in which Major Cukela was a gunnery sergeant, was advancing through the Forest de Retz when it was held up by an enemy strong point. Despite the warnings of his men, the gunnery sergeant 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 September 16, 1918 during the St. Mihiel engagement. Major Cukela was wounded again during the fighting in the Champagne sector. Neither wound was serious.
In addition to the two Medals of Honor, Major Cukela 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 Second Division citations.
Major Cukela received a field appointment to the rank of second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve on September 26, 1918 and was selected for a commission in the regular Marine Corps on March 31, 1919. Promoted to first lieutenant on July 17, 1919, he was advanced to the rank of captain on September 15, 1921. His promotion to major was effected on the day of his retirement, June 30, 1940.
After the war, Major Cukela 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, the major 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 June 30, 1940, he was recalled to active duty on July 30 of the same year. During World War II the major served at Norfolk and Philadelphia. He finally returned to the inactive retired list on May 17, 1946. Major Cukela served a few days less than 32 years of active duty in the Army and Marines.
The Marine hero was married to Minnie Myrtle Strayer of Miflintown, Pennsylvania, at Washington, D.C., on December 22, 1923. On March 19, 1956, Major 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, March 22, 1956. Mrs. Cukela died August 10, 1956.
At the time of his death, Major Cukela was survived by a sister, Mrs. Zorka Cukela Dvoracek, of Sibenik, Crotia.
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.
Photo Courtesy of the Home of Heroes
CUKELA, LOUIS (Army Medal)
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps, 66th Company, 5th Regiment. Place and date: Near Villers-Cotterets, France, 18 July 1918. Entered service at: Minneapolis, Minnesota. Born: 1 May 1888, Sebenes, Austria. G.O. No.: 34, W.D., 1919. (Also received Navy Medal of Honor.)
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.
CUKELA, LOUIS (Navy Medal)
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps, 66th Company, 5th Regiment. Born: 1 May 1888, Sebenes, Austria. Accredited to: Minnesota. (Also received Army Medal of Honor.)
For extraordinary heroism while serving with the 66th Company, 5th Regiment, during action in the Forest de Retz, near Viller-Cottertes, France, 18 July 1918. Sgt. Cukela advanced alone against an enemy strong point that was holding up his line. Disregarding the warnings of his comrades, he crawled out from the flank in the face of heavy fire and worked his way to the rear of the enemy position. Rushing a machinegun emplacement, he killed or drove off the crew with his bayonet, bombed out the remaining part of the strong point with German handgrenades and captured 2 machineguns and 4 men.
CUKELA, MINNIE S WIDOW OF LOUIS
Updated: 24 September 2000 Page Updated: 2 May 2001 Updated: 15 March 2003 Updated: 27 July 2003 Updated: 4 July 2007 Updated: 17 October 2007
Photos By: M. R. Patterson, October 2007
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 28 June 2003