Sergeant Matej Kocak was a US Marine who twice received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the First World War. He was awarded the Medal of Honor from both the US Army and the US Navy for the same action on 18 July 1918 near Soissons, France. [It is no longer allowed to award two Medals of Honor for the same action.]
Matej Kocak was born in Egbell, Kingdom of Hungary (today Gbely, Slovakia), on 3 December 1882. He emigrated to the US in 1906 and on 16 October 1907 enlisted in the US Marine Corps in Pittsburgh, PA. He began his 11-year Marine Corps career at Marine Barracks, League Island, PA. He was discharged on 16 October 1911, at the expiration of his first enlistment, but reenlisted in New York City on 26 December 1911 and was assigned to the Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, NY, for duty. For some time he lived in Binghamton, NY, where a large Slovak community used to live. He was member of Slovak Catholic Sokol in this town.
During his second enlistment, he served with the US Army at Veracruz, Mexico, from 30 April to 23 November 1914. His enlistment ended on 25 December 1915, at Marine Barracks New York, NY, but he again reenlisted and transferred to Marine Barracks, Naval Station, New Orleans, LA.
The following year, Matej Kocak was ashore in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where he participated in skirmishes with native bandits in Las Canitas, Azua Province, Dominican Republic. Appointed to the rank of Corporal on 23 March 1917, he then returned to the US where he joined the 12th Company at Quantico, VA.
By 31 December 1917 Matej Kocak was again overseas, this time at St. Nazaire, France. On 23 January 1918 he joined the 66th Company, 5th Regiment and, on 1 June 1918, was promoted to Sergeant. He then took part in the attack against the enemy in Bois De Belleau Bouresches sector northwest of Chateau Thierry, France. On 18 July 1918, he participated in the attack at Villers Cotteret Wood south of Soissons, France, and it was on this day he performed the act of heroism.
For his actions on 31 December 1917 Sergeant Matej Kocakwas posthumously awarded both the Army and Navy Medal of Honor. His Army citation reads:1
"When the advance of his battalion was checked by a hidden machinegun nest, he went forward alone, unprotected by covering fire from his own men, and worked in between the German positions in the face of fire from enemy covering detachments. Locating the machinegun nest, he rushed it and with his bayonet drove off the crew. Shortly after this he organized 25 French colonial soldiers who had become separated from their company and led them in attacking another machinegun nest, which was also put out of action."
His Navy citation reads:2
"For extraordinary heroism while serving with the 66th Company, 5th Regiment, 2d Division, in action in the Viller-Cottertes section, south of Soissons, France, 18 July 1918. When a hidden machinegun nest halted the advance of his battalion, Sgt. Kocak went forward alone unprotected by covering fire and worked his way in between the German positions in the face of heavy enemy fire. Rushing the enemy position with his bayonet, he drove off the crew. Later the same day, Sgt. Kocak organized French colonial soldiers who had become separated from their company and led them in an attack on another machinegun nest which was also put out of action."
On 4 October 1918, while taking part in the Allied drive against the enemy in the Argonne Forest Sergeant Matej Kocak was killed. He is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, Plot D, Row 41, Grave 32.