Captain Matt L. Urban, USA (June 14-September 3, 1944)

Blogger’s note: this post should properly have appeared on September 3, 2014 or before. Due to the long span of the citation of this Medal of Honor recipient, I missed it in the regular sequence of the World War II 70th anniversaries. I am sincerely sorry for this oversight of one week.

Matt Louis Urban was born with the surname Urbanowicz in Buffalo, New York on August 25, 1919. He graduated from Cornell University in 1941, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army upon graduation, having been an ROTC member. As an officer with the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division throughout World War II in Europe, he became one of the most decorated soldiers in United States’ history.

From June to September 1944, first in command of Company F of 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, then as the battalion commander, Captain Matt Urban both fought and led with immense personal courage and disregard for his own safety and suffered wounds.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (T-Z):

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Photo: poles.org

URBAN, MATT

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain), 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. Place and date: Renouf, France, 14 June to 3 September 1944. Entered service at: Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 2 July 1941

Citation: Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain) Matt Urban, l 12-22-2414, United States Army, who 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 2d 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, still in the attack near Orglandes, 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 hear 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.

Because of the casualties suffered among the leadership of the 60th Infantry Regiment and the 9th Infantry Division, the Medal of Honor recommendation for Urban was lost and forgotten. He retired from the Army in 1946 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

His Medal of Honor recommendation was rediscovered in 1979, and on July 19, 1980 he received the award he so richly deserved at the White House from President Carter. Besides the Medal of Honor, Urban was also decorated with two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Star Medals with Combat “V”, and seven Purple Hearts for wounds received during World War II. His fourteen personal decorations – six (possibly seven) for valor – is thought to be the most ever received by one combat infantryman.

Urban passed away at age 75 on March 4, 1995 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

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