A Hero we Almost Forgot
Date and Place of Birth: Aug. 25, 1919, Buffalo, N.Y.
Wife: Mrs. Jennie Urban, Holland, Mich.
Civilian Schooling: Cornell University, New York, N.Y.
(B.A. in history and government, minor in community recreation)
Lt. Col. Matt Urban began his active duty Army service on July 2, 1941 when he reported to the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, then at Fort Bragg, N.C. He served with this regiment during six campaigns in the Mediterranean and European theaters of operation during World War II, rising to the position of battalion commander before he was severely wounded Sept. 3, 1944.
The day after Urban was medically evacuated, his battalion sustained severe casualties and many of his soldiers were taken prisoner by the German Army. One of these prisoners was Staff Sgt. Earl G. Evans, who had served with Urban during much of his battalion's wartime service in Europe and Africa.
When Evans was repatriated to the United States in July 1945, he prepared a letter recommending Urban for the Medal of Honor. This letter was sent to the adjutant general of the Army and from there was forwarded to the commanding general of the 9th Infantry Division, which was still in Europe at that time.
Evan's letter apparently never arrived at the 9th Infantry Division, as a records search some 35 years later failed to turn up a clue as to any action that had ever been taken on the recommendation that Urban be awarded at the Medal of Honor. A copy of the letter was filed in Urban's official records, however, and remained there until Urban submitted a request for information on the award in June 1978 to Department of the Army.
After Urban's request for information and his official file were reviewed by the Army Military Awards Branch, the original recommendation was found and a lengthy process was begun to reconstruct the events described in Evans' recommendation.
Since the Medal of Honor is the nation's highest decoration for valor, detailed evidence of the performance of the act or acts is essential. Eyewitness statements or affidavits, as well as other documents from official records, must supply this evidence that the act or acts justify the Medal of Honor. In Urban's case, this task was made considerably more difficult than would ordinarily be the case since the recommendation involved heroism performed more that 35 years before.
As the pieces of the puzzle were assembled by the Army Awards Branch, a most dramatic picture of Urban emerged. He had clearly established himself as an outstanding combat leader who was fearless and highly esteemed by his men.
The eyewitness statements, even though they were prepared many years after the fact, show a remarkable consistency in what they describe. In each case, Urban's fearlessness is related in detail, but his concern for the welfare and safety of his men and his ability to inspire them to their best efforts are just as clearly demonstrated.
Although Urban received two Silver Stars for actions in Africa, his valorous actions in France and Belgium in 1944 had not been recognized with a military decoration for heroism except for a Bronze Star Medal he received for action on June 14, 1944.
From a legal standpoint, the recommendation on Urban meets all requirements of the law. Public Law (Title 10, USC) stipulates that a Medal of Honor may be awarded if a statement setting forth the act to be recognized is made within two years of the act and that records indicate the individual is entitled to the award. This same Public Law permits consideration of a recommendation for award of the Medal of Honor if the secretary of the Army determines that a statement was made within two years of the act to be recognized and no award was made because the statement was lost or through inadvertence, the recommendation was not acted upon.
President Jimmy Carter awarded the Medal Of Honor to Lt. Col. Urban July 19, 1980, at 9:30 a.m. in the Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain), 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, World War II. Place and date: Renouf, France, 14 June to 3 September 1944. Entered service at: Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 2 July 1941. Date and place of birth: 25 August 1919, Buffalo, New York. 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.
Awards and Decorations
Medal of Honor
Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal with "V" (valor) device, two oak-leaf clusters
Purple Heart with six oak-leaf clusters
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European - African - Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with six service stars)
World War II Victory Medal
Combat Infantryman Badge
Presidential Unit Citation
Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star (individual award from the government of France)
Croix de Guerre (unit award from the government of France)
Belgian Fourragere (unit award from the government of Belgium)
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