b. 25/08/1919 Buffalo, New York. d. 04/03/1995 Holland, Michigan.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 14/06 - 03/09/1944 France and Belgium.
Matt Urban was born Matthew Louis Urbanowicz in Buffalo, New York. His parents, Stanley and Helen Urbanowicz (Urban), were Polish immigrants. Urban was baptized at Corpus Christi Church and attended Buffalo East High School. He had three brothers, Stanley (Urbanowicz) Urban, Arthur (Urbanowicz) Urban, and a younger brother Eugene who died in 1927 from appendicitis. His father was a plumbing contractor. He completed three years of college under the name of Matthew Urbanowicz. He majored in history and government with a minor in community recreation at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and graduated on June 14, 1941, with a Bachelor of Arts degree using the name Matty L. Urbanowitz. While at Cornell University, he was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), the track and boxing teams, and the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity.
Urban was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in the U.S. Army on May 22, 1941, and entered active duty on July 2, 1941, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Urban served as a first lieutenant and captain in six campaigns during World War II, and was severely wounded his seventh time while charging an enemy machine gun position on 3 September 1944, in Belgium. He was promoted to first lieutenant on February 1, 1942, captain on April 30, 1943, major on October 2, 1944, and lieutenant colonel on October 2, 1945. He was medically retired from the U.S. Army on February 26, 1946.
Beginning at Fort Bragg, Urban served as a platoon leader. During the war he was a morale/special services officer, a platoon leader, a company executive officer and company commander, and a battalion executive officer and battalion commander of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division ("Old Reliables"). Urban first went into combat when he made the beach landing under fire with another soldier on a raft on November 8, 1942, the first day of the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch), of the North Africa Campaign. Along with a Purple Heart, one of the first medals he received during the war was a Silver Star. During the German counterattack Urban was wounded by grenade shrapnel.
The 60th Infantry disembarked from Africa on July 28, 1943, on the SS Orizaba, and arrived at Palermo, Sicily, on July 31, after the invasion of Sicily by an American amphibious landing force on July 9 and the Allied invasion of Italy on July 10. German planes raided the harbor and the Orizaba was also attacked by German planes in the early morning of August 1 before Urban's unit disembarked from the ship that day. Urban, on deck at the time, replaced an anti-aircraft gunnery crew's spotter who was machine-gunned by a German Stuka dive bomber. Using the badly wounded spotter's binoculars, Urban spotted the plane returning and the gun crew was able to shoot it down. After the invasion of Sicily, the Germans were entrenched in a fortified mountain stronghold where the 1st Infantry Division got dogged down by the difficult terrain.
The 60th Infantry and 4th Tabour of Guorns (French Moroccan infantry battalion) was given the mission of crossing the mountains in central Sicily undetected to flank the Germans. Urban's company and battalion successfully spearheaded 4,000 men with pack-mules single file by night, which caught the Germans off guard and caused them to retreat from Troina to the next line of defense at Randazzo. A battle would have cost hundreds of American lives. Sicily was liberated on August 20. On September 5, Urban was presented a Silver Star in Sicily, before the 9th Infantry Division was sent back to England on November 8 for a rest and to re-equip and train for the Normandy invasion.
Urban and the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry landed on Utah Beach at Normandy on June 11, 1944. On June 14, Urban's company attacked German positions near Renouf, France. As F Company was hit by heavy enemy small arms and tank fire, Urban picked up bazooka after the bazooka gunner was shot, and persuaded the gunner's ammo carrier to accompany him through the hedgerows to a point near the oncoming tanks. Exposing himself to the enemy, he knocked out two Panzer tanks, and the company moved forward and routed the enemy. Later that day, while advancing near Orglandes, Urban was struck in the left leg by shrapnel by direct fire from a German tank who spotted and aimed towards him before he could fire the bazooka. Urban refused to be evacuated after a medic attended him, and continued directing his company from position to position while being carried by his men sitting down on a litter. The next day, he was wounded in the right forearm and attended in the field by the 2nd Battalion doctor who had him evacuated to a field hospital surgical tent where Urban underwent surgery on his left calf by two doctors using lanterns for light.
Urban was then shipped to England for further treatment on a troop carrier. While Urban was recovering at a hospital in England in July 1944, he learned from casualties from his battalion that they had been taking severe losses in the hedgerows of France, and were lacking experienced combat officers. In order to go back to his men instead of going back to the United States because of his leg injury, he took charge of training forty soldiers near the hospital who were soon being sent to Normandy. He managed to leave with them on a troop carrier.
On July 25, after arriving and dropping the soldiers off for combat duty on Normandy in the morning, he began hitchhiking his way from Utah Beach to his company and battalion near Saint-Lô,, France, as the breakout from Normandy (Operation Cobra, July 25–31, 1944) was about to commence with the 9th Division in the lead. Urban, limping and using a stick he made as a cane, arrived at the Second Battalion, 60th Infantry to find that the battalion was checked by strong enemy opposition after their attack began. German machine guns and an anti-tank gun had them pinned down. He then got men moving again so they would not be killed in their foxholes and ditches. He helped a soldier pull a wounded and pinned in Sherman tank driver out of his burning tank before it exploded. He located another American support tank which was still operable, but its gun was not manageable and its turret gunner had been wounded.
The tank was stalled because of a cross fire from a German machine gun and the anti-tank gun positioned on top of the hillside which had destroyed another tank. Urban was told by a tank platoon lieutenant that the driver was still inside the tank. The lieutenant and then a tank platoon sergeant were both machine-gunned and killed while attempting to get to the tank's turret and its 50-caliber machine gun. Urban crawled alongside the tank and was able to get to and man the tank turret under fire. He ordered the tank driver to advance in high gear, and as the tank jumped off, he fired away on the German machine gun emplacement. The anti-tank gun also started firing rounds away at Urban, but was not able to hit him and disable his tank, which enabled Urban to fire on them. This rallied the Second Battalion behind Urban into the valley in a unified assault. Urban destroyed more machine gun positions and the Second Battalion overran the Germans lines with hand-to-hand and bayonet fighting causing many German soldiers to surrender. The Second Battalion Commander Max L. Wolf witnessed the action at his command post from another hill with his binoculars and recommended Urban for the Medal of Honor for spearheading the Second Battalion's Saint-Lô breakthrough and saving many lives. Urban was then made the executive officer of the battalion.
On August 2, Urban was wounded in the chest by a shell fragment that narrowly missed his heart. He again refused to be evacuated to a hospital. On August 6, Wolf was killed in action near Cherbourg, France, and Urban, only 24 years old, assumed command of the battalion. Urban was wounded again by shrapnel on August 15, but he remained with his unit. The 60th Infantry was awarded the French Croix de guerre with Palm for the period June 11–18, 1944.
On September 2, 1944, the Second Battalion, 60th Infantry, was assigned to a regiment of another infantry division. After Urban and his battalion were dug in one mile from Philippeville, Belgium, Urban met with the division's commanding officer, a brigadier general, who ordered Urban and his Second Battalion to attack Philippeville the next morning. Urban and two others scouted the village and found at least a regiment-sized German force there which was well defended with machine guns, tanks, and antiaircraft guns aimed down the one road leading to the village. On September 3, Urban and his battalion attacked Philippeville after getting artillery cover that he requested from the general. While charging at a forward enemy machine gun emplacement with two grenades, he was shot through the neck, leaving his larynx permanently disabled. One of Urban's men got to Urban and immediately plugged and bandaged Urban's two neck wounds. Another soldier arrived and both soldiers dragged Urban one hundred yards to a muddy ditch while under fire from another German machine gun as the battle raged. The Second Battalion doctor and chaplain arrived at the ditch. The doctor gave Urban plasma and did a tracheotomy on him. The chaplain gave Urban last rites after the doctor nodded to him that Urban would not live. On September 4, Urban was carried off the battlefield by jeep and taken from the battle zone to a field hospital tent. Urban spent a few weeks at a field hospital in France before being sent back to England for further recovery. On October 2, 1944, he was promoted to major. The 9th Infantry Division was awarded a Belgian Unit Citation for meritorious service during the period September 3-13, 1944.
While getting a pass to Scotland in December, he returned instead to the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, which was at Camp Elsenborn, Germany. Urban was well welcomed by his men, who thought he had been killed in action. Although Urban could not speak, he requested a combat assignment in writing. His request was denied for medical concerns by the 60th Infantry Regiment commander at Elsenborn. He was allowed to stay with the 2nd Battalion until the battalion pulled out of Elsenborn, and he returned to England. Beginning in October 1945, he was a staff writer and later an editor for Liberty Magazine's ("Liberty", 1924-1950) Veterans' View Bulletin until October 1947; he was medically retired from the U.S. Army in February 1946. During this time he was promoted to lieutenant colonel (October 2, 1945) and changed his legal name from Matty Urbanowitz to Matt Urban.
n 1949, he became the Recreation Director in Port Huron, Michigan. Starting in 1956, he took a job as Director of the Monroe, Michigan, Community Center until 1972. After leaving the job, he continued to serve the community center as coach for basketball, baseball, and football programs. At Monroe, he also trained several young men who became national Golden Gloves Champions. He was appointed chair of the Michigan Olympic Boxing Committee. Later, as part of the Chicago Olympic Committee, he was one of three trainers who accompanied Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) to the San Francisco Olympic tryouts.
After Monroe, he became the Director of the Recreation Department for Holland, Michigan from 1972 to 1989. He organized a camp for underprivileged children and became its Camp Director, served as Boys Club director, and a Cub Scout Cubmaster. He was also involved in other activities and organizations like the Red Cross, the Amateur Softball Association, and Boy Scouts, as chairman, board member, and committee member. He was inducted into the Hall of Honor at the Softball Hall of Fame.
In 1989, Urban retired and self-published an autobiography, The Matt Urban Story, Life And World War II Experiences. In 1990, the book was retitled as The Hero-We Nearly Forgot, The Matt Urban Story. In early 1979, a Michigan Disabled American Veterans (DAV) regional service representative who had come to know Urban personally over a long period of time, sent an official Medal of Honor recommendation inquiry to U.S. Army Headquarters. The misplaced MOH recommendation for Urban was found and revealed that Major Max L. Wolf, Urban's battalion commander in France, had initiated a Medal of Honor recommendation for Urban which was forwarded by Staff Sergeant Earl Evans just prior to Wolf being killed in action in France on August 6, 1944. The U.S. Army then completed the necessary recommendation process to award Urban the Medal of Honor. In 1980, by the direction of the President, the Department of the Army awarded Matt Urban the Medal of Honor, in the name of the Congress.
On July 10, 1980, Urban was notified by the White House that he was a Medal of Honor recipient, and the next day he was notified that the Medal of Honor award ceremony would be on July 19. On July 18, Urban was presented the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with "V" device (second oak leaf cluster), and his seventh Purple Heart (sixth oak leaf cluster), by Army Chief of Staff, Edward C. Meyer, during a ceremony at the Pentagon. At a ceremony at the French Embassy, he was also presented the Croix de guerre with Bronze Star by Francois Lefebvre de Labouaye, the French Ambassador to the United States. The citation for the medal which was not personally awarded to Urban before this occasion was signed by General Charles de Galle in June 1944. On July 19, President Jimmy Carter presented Urban the Medal of Honor in front of several hundred guests, which included fellow 9th Infantry Division veterans who served with Urban in combat.
Urban died on March 4, 1995, in Holland, Michigan, at the age of 75. The cause of death was a collapsed lung, reportedly due to his war injuries. He is buried in Plot: Section 7a, Grave 40 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty: Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain) Matt Urban, 112-22-2414, United States Army, distinguished himself by a series of bold, heroic actions, exemplified by singularly outstanding combat leadership, personal bravery, and tenacious devotion to duty, during the period 14 June to 3 September 1944 while assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On 14 June, Captain Urban's company, attacking at Renouf, France, encountered heavy enemy small arms and tank fire. The enemy tanks were unmercifully raking his unit's positions and inflicting heavy casualties. Captain Urban, realizing that his company was in imminent danger of being decimated, armed himself with a bazooka. He worked his way with an ammo carrier through hedgerows, under a continuing barrage of fire, to a point near the tanks. He brazenly exposed himself to the enemy fire and, firing the bazooka, destroyed both tanks. Responding to Captain Urban's action, his company moved forward and routed the enemy. Later that same day, still in the attack near Orglandes, Captain Urban was wounded in the leg by direct fire from a 37mm tank-gun. He refused evacuation and continued to lead his company until they moved into defensive positions for the night. At 0500 hours the next day, Captain Urban, though badly wounded, directed his company in another attack. One hour later he was again wounded. Suffering from two wounds, one serious, he was evacuated to England.
In mid-July, while recovering from his wounds, he learned of his unit's severe losses in the hedgerows of Normandy. Realizing his unit's need for battle-tested leaders, he voluntarily left the hospital and hitchhiked his way back to his unit near St. Lo, France. Arriving at the 2d Battalion Command Post at 1130 hours, 25 July, he found that his unit had jumped-off at 1100 hours in the first attack of "Operation Cobra". Still limping from his leg wound, Captain Urban made his way forward to retake command of his company. He found his company held up by strong enemy opposition. Two supporting tanks had been destroyed and another, intact but with no tank commander or gunner, was not moving. He located a lieutenant in charge of the support tanks and directed a plan of attack to eliminate the enemy strong-point. The lieutenant and a sergeant were immediately killed by the heavy enemy fire when they tried to mount the tank. Captain Urban, though physically hampered by his leg wound and knowing quick action had to be taken, dashed through the scathing fire and mounted the tank. With enemy bullets ricocheting from the tank, Captain Urban ordered the tank forward and, completely exposed to the enemy fire, manned the machine gun and placed devastating fire on the enemy. His action, in the face of enemy fire, galvanized the battalion into action and they attacked and destroyed the enemy position. On 2 August, Captain Urban was wounded in the chest by shell fragments and, disregarding the recommendation of the Battalion Surgeon, again refused evacuation. On 6 August, Captain Urban became the commander of the 2d Battalion. On 15 August, he was again wounded but remained with his unit.
On 3 September, the 2d Battalion was given the mission of establishing a crossing-point on the Meuse River near Heer, Belgium. The enemy planned to stop the advance of the allied Army by concentrating heavy forces at the Meuse. The 2d Battalion, attacking toward the crossing-point, encountered fierce enemy artillery, small arms and mortar fire which stopped the attack. Captain Urban quickly moved from his command post to the lead position of the battalion. Reorganizing the attacking elements, he personally led a charge toward the enemy's strong-point. As the charge moved across the open terrain, Captain Urban was seriously wounded in the neck. Although unable to talk above a whisper from the paralyzing neck wound, and in danger of losing his life, he refused to be evacuated until the enemy was routed and his battalion had secured the crossing-point on the Meuse River. Captain Urban's personal leadership, limitless bravery, and repeated extraordinary exposure to enemy fire served as an inspiration to his entire battalion. His valorous and intrepid actions reflect the utmost credit on him and uphold the noble traditions of the United States Army.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
Section 7A, Grave 40
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