Military Appreciation Month: Remembering WWI and WWII Heroes
May 10, 2017
World War I Hero: Sgt. Matej Locak
Matej Kocak was born on December 3, 1882 in Egbell, Kingdom of Hungary. His family emigrated to the US in 1906. A year later, Kocak enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and he was sent to League Island, Pennsylvania. His first enlistment ended in 1911 and he reenlisted and was sent to the Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, New York. He spent most of his time in New York while he was in the Marines, however, he also spent some time with the U.S. Army in Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1914. He was discharged a second time, and just like before, he reenlisted with the Marines for a 3rd time and was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana.
During his 3rd enlistment he was sent to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, During his time in the Dominican Republic, he helped fight off the native bandits. He was promoted to Corporal on March 23, 1917 and went back to join the 12th Company in Quantico, VA.
As WWI went on, Kocak was needed overseas again. This time he was sent to St. Nazaire, France. Soon after he arrived, he joined a new Company and was promoted to Sergeant. One of Kocak’s first battles in France was the attack against Bois De Belleau.
On July 18, 1918 while participating in the attack at Villers Cotteret Wood south of Soissons, France he was able to perform an act of heroism that ultimately earned him two Medals of Honor, for both the Army and the Navy. During this battle, Kocak and his battalion were struck by a hidden machine gun nest. He went to the front of the line, alone and unprotected, and worked his way between the Germans and the positions they were facing. The Germans were attacking heavily and Kocak was able to drive off the crew with a bayonet. On this same day, Kocak lead French soldiers in an attack on another machine gun nest from the Germans and put them out of action.
Sergeant Kocak continued to fight in WWI after his brave actions. On October 4, 1918, Kocak was killed in action. He was participating in the Argonne Forest in the Allies’ attempt to drive the enemy away and the attack in the St. Mihiel sector of the Thiaucourt, France when he died. He was buried in Romagne, France in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. In addition to the two Medals of Honor, Kocak was also awarded two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart.
World War II Hero: Capt. John Cromwell
John Phillip Cromwell was born in Henry, Illinois on September 11, 1901. He graduated from the U.S Naval Academy in 1924 and he went on to serve aboard the USS Maryland battleship. A few years after that Cromwell went to submarine school and was assigned to the USS S-24 . For the next 3 years, he served as a diesel engineering instructor.
In the beginning of WWII, Cromwell served on the staff of command and was in charge of running different submarine divisions. In 1939, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and spent 2 years in Washington, D.C. where he worked with the Bureau of Engineering and Bureau of Ships. Cromwell then went on to be the Engineer Officer of the Pacific Fleet submarine force and the commander of the Submarine Divisions 203, 44, and 43.
In 1943 on November 5th, Cromwell, a newly promoted Captain, departed Pearl Harbor on the USS Sculpin. The Sculpin was on its ninth patrol as a part of Operation Galvanic, which was the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
Captain Cromwell had formed a wolf pack with 2 other submarines due to the position of the Sculpin in the Pacific. On November 18, 1943, the Sculpin came into contact with one of the Japanese convoy. As the Sculpin began to move in to attack, the periscope was spotted by the Japanese lookouts and this started the battle. After several attempts to lay low and strike the Japanese when they least expected it, the Sculpin was spotted each time and continued to receive damage. On one attempt, the depth gauge became stuck at 125 feet. This confused the diving officer and landed the boat in plain view of the Japanese's Yamagumo. The Japanese struck the Sculpin with 18 charges causing the ship to experience a series of leaks and causing it to lose depth control. Due to the ship losing control, the ship came to the surface and the deck was taken over. The senior ship officer ordered the crew to abandon the ship.
Captain Cromwell was left with a few options, since he had knowledge of multiple secrets. Instead of being taken as a prisoner of war, he made the ultimate decision to protect the vital secrets he knew and he gave his life to avoid being captured. For the sacrifice he made, Cromwell was deemed a hero and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. He also received the Legion of Merit and a Purple Heart.
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