November 10, 2012


Matt Urban (Urbanowitz) most decorated soldier of WW2
Matt Urban (Urbanowitz)

President Jimmy Carter called him "the greatest soldier in American history".  He was a man with immense courage in the face of overwhelming odds and demonstrated to the world what freedom really means.  This man was Lt. Colonel Matt Urban, a Polish American.  He was the most decorated soldier of WW2, but one medal continually eluded him - the highest commendation of the United States - the Congressional Medal of Honour.  

That he finally received the prestigious award was due entirely to the intervention of a close friend.  Urban was too modest a man to meddle in self promotion.  Despite the recommendations, it was decades before the military brass finally bestowed Urban with the recognition and respect owed to him.  In July 1980 Urban finally received the highest of honours. Several years later he stated, "When I came home, I never thought about the war.. that's why the medal was 35 years late...I just never pursued it.'

60th Infantry Regiment Coat of Arms
Though Matt Urban was born in Buffalo, New York, he was of Polish heritage.  The son of Helen and Stanley Urbanowitz, he was baptized Matty Louis Urbanowitz.  As WW2 raged throughout Europe, Urban was studying at Cornell University where he graduated in June 1941 with a degree in history and government. He immediately enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and by the following month was already on active duty training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As part of the 60th Infantry Regiment, he was dispatched overseas and saw combat action in Sicily, France, Belgium and Germany.  Urban is most praised for his heroic actions on D-Day.

During the landing at Omaha Beach Urban broke his leg, but was not deterred. His buddies were trapped on the beach, and despite his injury, Urban climbed atop a tank and led them on a concentrated attack on German position.  The Germans called Urban by the nickname the "Ghost' because he kept returning to the front lines despite his many injuries. He was wounded six times, and returned to fight six times.

But he was injured a seventh time.  A bullet ripped out one of his vocal cords, a wound which the doctors expected to be fatal.  It was a miracle that Urban survived the attack. Despite the threat to his life, Urban adamantly refused to be evacuated, and was determined to carry on and  lead his battalion. (The objective was to secure their position at the crossing-point on the Meuse River).  Against all odds, Urban did survive the injury, though it was a two year battle for recovery.  The damage to his vocal cords affected his speech for the rest of his life - he could only speak with a raspy voice. 

Urban was praised for his heroism, evident throughout the D-Day invasion. There were ten acts of bravery documented. He suffered a leg wound from a bazooka attack while fighting in Northern France and shipped to an Army hospital in England.  Remarkably within six weeks he went AWOL and returned to the battlefield.  In another incident when his unit was virtually under siege by German firepower, Urban dashed across an open field in a hail of machine gun bullets, towards an unmanned American tank.  He climbed into the tank and proceeded to return fire, successfully routing the German position.

Omaha Beach on D Day - low tide
Lt. Col. Urban was decorated with a total of  29 medals, which rival that of any military officer in the United States Forces.  Among his many awards were 7 Purple Hearts (one for each wound) with silver and bronze oak leaf clusters;  Silver Star (1 OLC); Bronze Star (2 OLC) with V Device;  NYS Conspicuous Cross with 4 Silver and 1 Gold Clusters; Legion of Merit; French Croix de Guerre; and Belgian Croix de Guerre with palm.

What was the act that earned Urban the Congressional Medal of Honour?  A sergeant who was an eyewitness to the event said that Urban, "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."

US Congressional Medal of Honour
US Congressional Medal of Honour

Matt Urban passed away on March 20, 1995 from a collapsed lung (due to his numerous war injuries). His remains have been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Matt Louis Urbanowitz will be remembered for his outstanding leadership, and amazing courage under heavy fire.  He served the United States Army, the men of his battalion, and most dear to his heart, the cause of freedom and liberty.

President Jimmy Carter congratulates Matt President Jimmy Carter congratulates Matt Urban - Congressional Medal of Honour
President Jimmy Carter congratulates Matt Urban

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