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

“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.  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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Published in: on July 18, 2018 at 11:59 pm  Comments Off on July 18, 1918: Marine Mustang From Croatia Earns Medal of Honor  
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July 18, 1863: Assault on Fort Wagner

We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!

Response of the parents of Colonel Robert Shaw as to whether they wished to have his body exhumed and brought back to Boston.

The 155th anniversary of the second assault on Fort Wagner, the Confederate fort on Morris Island, guarding entry into Charleston Harbor, made immortal by the film Glory (1989) depicting the attack of the 54th Massachusetts.  The 54th sustained the following casualties out of 600 men:  29 killed, including the commander of the regiment, 25 year old Colonel Robert Shaw, 15 captured, 52 missing in action and 149 wounded.  The white regiments that participated in the attack also sustained heavy losses.  A total of 1515 Union casualties against approximately 174 Confederate casualties.   Ironically, Fort Wagner would be abandoned by the Confederates in September, it being too difficult to keep the Fort supplied in the teeth of a continual Union bombardment, and the water supply in the Fort being contaminated by the number of corpses in the soil surrounding the fort from the two unsuccessful assaults.

The courage shown by the men of the 54th put the lie to the fairly common belief, completely at variance with history, that black men could not make good soldiers.  The 54th would go on to fight in several more battles during the course of the War.

Sergeant William Carney of the 54th earned a Medal of Honor in the assault.  Despite being wounded several times he placed the national flag on the parapet of Fort Wagner, and when the 54th retreated he brought back the flag in spite of being wounded twice more.  He told the men he gave the flag to:  “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!” (more…)

Published in: on July 18, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 18, 1863: Assault on Fort Wagner  
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