Matt Urban

Matt Urban was born Matthew Lewis Urbanowicz in Buffalo, New York, on August 25, 1919. His father was Stanley, a Polish immigrant and a plumbing contractor; his mother was Helen. He attended East High School in Buffalo, where he graduated in 1937. In the fall of that same year, he enrolled at Cornell University, majoring in history and government with a minor in community recreation. He graduated on June 14, 1941. While at Cornell, he was also a member of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, ROTC.[1][2]

It is believed that Matt Urban went by that name and as Matty Lewis Urbanowitz in the United States army. On May 22, 1941, he was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry in the United States Army and entered active duty on July 2, 1941, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His first assignment was as a platoon leader of D Company, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. While at Fort Bragg, he founded the newsletter for the 60th Infantry.[3]

Urban first saw combat on November 8, 1942, when he made a beach landing under heavy fire.[4] While serving with the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, he was wounded in action seven different times. “The major, only a lieutenant at the time, was wounded in Maknassy, Tunisia and refused to be evacuated. He followed up this refusal by taking out a combat patrol. At another time in Tunisia, our battalion successfully halted a German counterattack, and it was through the major’s efforts that we succeeded. As our outfit was falling back, the major held his ground and grabbed the closest German. He killed him with a trench knife, took the German’s machine pistol, and fired at the onrushing enemy.”[5]

Urban and the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, landed on Utah Beach on June 11, 1944. On the 14th, he and his company attacked German positions near Renouf, France. During the battle, Urban picked up a 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 was able to knock out two German tanks.[6]

Later that day, Urban was struck in the left leg by shrapnel by direct fire from a German tank that spotted and aimed at him before he could fire the bazooka. Matt refused to be evacuated and instead had a medic attend to him. He continued directing his company from position to position while being carried by his men sitting down on a stretcher.[7]

The next day, he was wounded in the right forearm and attended to in the field by a doctor. The doctor had him evacuated to a field hospital surgical tent, where he underwent surgery on his left calf by two doctors using lanterns for light. He was eventually shipped to England for further treatment on a troop carrier. While in England, he learned of the casualties from his Battalion and the severe losses they had in France. Afraid he would be sent back to the United States because of his leg injury, he began training forty soldiers near the hospital who were to be sent to Normandy. He left with them.[8][9]

On July 25, after dropping the soldiers off for combat duty in Normandy, he began hitchhiking his way from Utah Beach to his company near Saint-Lo, France, where they were about to lead the charge to start the Battle of Normandy. Urban made his way to his men by limping and using a stick he had made into a cane. He reached the 2nd Battalion to find that the unit faced strong enemy opposition just after the attack had begun. German machine guns and an anti-tank gun had pinned them down. Jumping into action, he got his men moving so they would not be killed in their foxholes and ditches. He also helped a soldier pull a wounded and pinned-down Sherman tank driver out of the burning tank before it exploded.

Urban was aware of another American support tank that was still operable, which was stalled because of a crossfire from a German machine gun and an anti-tank gun positioned on top of a hill. After finding out that the driver was still inside the tank, Urban crawled alongside the tank and was able to get to and man the tank’s turret under fire. He ordered the tank’s driver to advance in high gear while he fired on the German machine gun in placement. The 2nd Battalion rallied behind him and advanced into the valley in a unified assault.[10]

Urban destroyed more machine gun positions, and the 2nd Battalion was able to overrun the German lines with hand-to-hand and bayonet fighting, which caused many German soldiers to surrender. Because of the actions of Matt Urban, many lives were saved, and he was made an executive officer of the Battalion. “Urban move forward, and damned if the U.S. Army didn’t move forward also. He bellied up to the tank and amid heavy gunfire scrambled aboard and manned the machine gun. The driver took heart with Urban aboard. The tank roared forward, and Urban tore the hillside apart with that gun. The men, once again with ‘Urban-itis’ scrambled up the rise and gained the objective.”[11]

On August 2, he was wounded in the chest by a shelf fragment nearly missing his heart. Still, he refused to be evacuated. On the 6th, the 2nd Battalion commander Max L. Wolf was killed in action, and Urban assumed command of the Battalion. He was wounded again by shrapnel on August 15 but remained with his unit. At this point, he was just shy of his 25th birthday.[12]

On September 2, 1944, the 2nd Battalion was assigned to a regiment in Belgium. Urban and his men were ordered to attack Philippeville, Belgium the next morning. They scouted the village and found a regiment size German force well-defended with machine guns, tanks, and anti-aircraft guns aimed down the one road leading to the village. The next morning, September 3, Urban and his Battalion attacked, and while charging at the enemy with two grenades, Urban was shot through the neck, permanently disabling his larynx.[13] One of his men got to him and immediately plugged and bandaged his neck wound while another soldier arrived to help drag him one hundred yards to a muddy ditch while under fire from another German machine gun. The battalion doctor and the chaplain were called for. The doctor gave Urban plasma and performed a tracheotomy while the chaplain gave him his last rights.[14]

On September 4, Matt Urban was carried off the battlefield to a field hospital tent. He spent a few weeks in a field hospital in France before being sent back to England. On October 2, 1944, he was promoted to major, and his Battalion was awarded the Belgian Unit Citation for Meritorious Service.[15]

Urban got a pass to visit Scotland in December. Instead, he took the pass and went to Germany. He returned to his 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry, and was welcomed back by his men, who thought he had been killed. Although he couldn’t speak, he requested a combat assignment in writing. His request was denied, but he was allowed to stay with the Battalion until they pulled out of Elsenborn, after which he was sent back to England.[16]

In October 1945, he became a staff writer and later an editor for Liberty Magazine’s Veterans View Bulletin. He was medically retired from the U.S. Army in February 1946. He had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and changed his legal name to Matt Urban. On July 19, 1980, he was presented the medal of honor by President Jimmy Carter. Many of the men he fought with in the 9th infantry division were present.[17]

Urban passed away on March 4, 1995. At 75 years old. He died of a collapsed lung from his old war injuries and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[18]

[1] Matt Urban and Charles Conrad, The Matt Urban Story, Life And World War II Experiences (Matt Urban Story, Incorporated, 1989).
[2] Cornell Alumni News issues, 1939-1941, “Matty L. Urbanowitz, 41”; December 15, 1943, Vol. 46, #12, p. 233, “Captain Matty L. Urbanowitz”, two Silver Stars.
[3] Matt Urban and Charles Conrad, The Matt Urban Story, Life And World War II Experiences.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Steve Cichon, “July 4, 1979: Matt Urban to finally get Medal of Honor”, Buffalo News, July 4, 2014.
[6] Matt Urban and Charles Conrad, The Matt Urban Story, Life And World War II Experiences.
[7] Ibid.
[8] “Medal of Honor Recipients – World War II (T–Z)”. Medal of Honor Citations. United States Army Center of Military History. December 3, 2010. Archived from the original on December 31, 2009.
[9] Matt Urban and Charles Conrad, The Matt Urban Story, Life And World War II Experiences.
[10] Ibid.
[11] The Octofoil, July-August 1980.
[12] “Phi Gamma Delta in World War II”.
[13] Hubbell, John G.,. The Hero We Nearly Forgot. Reader’s Digest, December 1981, 129.
[14] Matt Urban and Charles Conrad, The Matt Urban Story, Life And World War II Experiences.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] “Burial Detail: Urban, Matt L. (Section 7A, Grave 40)”. ANC Explorer. Arlington National Cemetery.

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