|Born||25 Aug 1919|
|Died||4 Mar 1995|
Contributor: John Radzilowski
ww2dbaseMatthew Louis Urban (né Urbanowicz) along with Audie Murphy shares the distinction of being the most decorated American combat veterans of World War II. He was award 29 U.S., French, and Belgian medals including the Medal of Honor, America's highest decoration for valor. Wounded seven times in action, his ability to return again and again from near-fatal wounds led the Germans to dub him "the Ghost." His combat career was distinguished not only by great personal courage but the ability to inspire similar bravery in the men he led.
ww2dbaseBorn to Polish immigrant parents in Buffalo, New York, United States, Urban attended Cornell University from 1937 to 1941, where he was part of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He received military training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, United States and was assigned as a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, 60th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. He saw action in the Allied invasions of North Africa and the Italian island of Sicily, earning promotion to captain, and serving as company commander.
ww2dbaseFollowing the D-Day invasion in France, Urban and his men were engaged in heavy fighting in the bocage country of Normandy. On June 14, 1944 near Renouf, France, Urban's company was pinned down by heavy enemy fire and threatened by two German tanks. Arming himself with a bazooka, Urban advanced toward the tanks. Exposing himself to enemy fire, Urban destroyed both tanks. In words of his later Medal of Honor citation: "Responding to Captain Urban's action, his company moved forward and routed the enemy." Later that day Urban was wounded in leg by fire from a 37-millimeter gun but refused evacuation and continued to lead his men in heavy fighting until he was wounded a second time. He was then evacuated to a hospital in England. In mid-July, while still in the hospital, he heard that his unit had suffered heavy casualties in the ongoing fighting in France. Despite not being fully healed, Urban found a cane to help him walk and checked himself out of the hospital. He hitchhiked to Normandy and arrived back at the front on July 25. That morning, his unit had jumped off on the opening attack of Operation Cobra. When Urban reached his men, he found them halted by strong German resistance and coming under heavy fire.
ww2dbaseA supporting force of U.S. tanks moved up to assist but two of the tanks were knocked out immediately and third tank was disabled by the loss of its commander and its gunner. Urban and the remaining lieutenant planned a counter attack but the lieutenant was killed immediately as enemy fire intensified. Urban hobbled forward quickly with his cane, across open ground, exposed to the brunt of enemy fire and climbed on top of the stalled tank. According to his Medal of Honor citation: "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." According to a sergeant who witnessed the action "One of the craziest officers suddenly appeared before us, yelling like a madman and waving a gun in his hand. . . . He got us on our feet, though, gave us our confidence back and saved our lives."
ww2dbaseUrban was wounded again in early August but again refused evacuation. He was promoted to 2nd Battalion commander on August 6 and wounded again on August 15. On September 3, his battalion spearheaded the American attack across the Meuse River in Belgium. When the attack faltered, Urban moved to the front, rallied his men, and led the attack on the river crossing. Urban was hit in neck as he advanced. Despite bleeding heavily and unable to speak above a whisper, he continued to lead his men forward, until the German defenders were routed, and the crossing secured.
ww2dbaseAfter two years of therapy, Urban was able to regain use of his voice despite damaged vocal cords. He retired from the Army at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Following the war, he returned to civilian life and for many years rarely spoke of his wartime exploits. Although nominated during the war for the Medal of Honor, the paperwork was lost until the 1970s. Urban was finally awarded the Medal of Honor in 1980. As a civilian, he worked as a director of recreation and sporting programs for young people in Michigan, United States and passed away following complications from his war wounds in 1995.
John Radzilowski, "Matt Urban", Polish American Encyclopedia (2011)
Matt Urban, The Matt Urban Story: Life and World War II Experiences (1989)
Last Major Revision: Apr 2016
Matthew Urban Timeline
|25 Aug 1919||Matthew Urbanowicz was born in Buffalo, New York, United States.|
|14 Jun 1944||Company commander Matthew Urban found his men pinned down by Germans in Normandie, France. With a bazooka, exposing himself to enemy fire, he destroyed two German tanks, allowing his men to counterattack and eventually overtake the Germans. He was wounded twice later on the same days and was forced to evacuate.|
|24 Jul 1944||Matthew Urban arrived at his former unit at the front in Normandie, France after having left the hospital, where he had been convalescing, without authorization. On the same day, finding that a US tank was temporarily halted with the crew did not know what to do after the loss of the tank commander, he took command of the tank and led it forward to attack German positions.|
|6 Aug 1944||Matt Urban was made the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion of US 60th Regiment while in France.|
|15 Aug 1944||Matthew Urban was wounded in combat in France.|
|3 Sep 1944||Matthew Urban led his battalion across the Meuse River in Belgium. He was shot in the neck in combat, damaging his vocal cords.|
|4 Mar 1995||Matthew Urban passed away following complications from his war wounds.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945