Lt. Col. Matt L. Urban (1919-1995) began his active duty Army service on July 2, 1941, when he reported to the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During World War II, he served with this regiment during six campaigns in the Mediterranean and European theaters of operation, rising to the position of battalion commander.
On June 14, 1944, Urban received a serious leg wound during combat in France. In mid-July, he was recuperating in a hospital in England when he learned that his unit had suffered significant casualties. He left the hospital and hitchhiked back to the 2nd Battalion command post near St. Lo, France. Under heavy enemy fire, he was wounded three more times in August and early September 1944, each time refusing evacuation until his battalion was secure.
One of Urban's men, Staff Sgt. Earl G. Evans, had served with him in Europe and Africa. When Evans was repatriated to the United States in July 1945, after being released from a German prisoner of war camp, he prepared a letter recommending Urban for the Medal of Honor. This letter was sent to the adjutant general of the Army, who forwarded it to the commanding general of the 9th Infantry Division, which was still in Europe at the time. Evans' letter apparently never reached 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 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.
The Army Military Awards Branch reviewed Urban's official file, found Evans' original recommendation and began to reconstruct the events that the letter described. Because the Medal of Honor is the nation's highest decoration for valor, there must be detailed evidence of the act or acts of heroism performed — eyewitness statements or affidavits, as well as other documents from official records. In Urban's case, the task of obtaining sufficient evidence was considerably more difficult since the recommendation involved heroism performed more than 35 years ago.
As the Army Awards Branch assembled pieces of the puzzle, it became clear that Urban was an outstanding combat leader, highly esteemed by his men. The eyewitness statements, even many years later, showed a remarkable consistency. Each recounted Urban's fearlessness, concern for the welfare and safety of his men, and ability to inspire them to their best efforts.
Although Urban had received two Silver Stars for actions in Africa, his valorous actions in France and Belgium in 1944 had not previously been recognized with a military decoration for heroism, except for a Bronze Star for his actions on June 14, 1944. On July 10, 1980, the White House notified Lt. Col. Urban that he had finally received the Medal of Honor. President Jimmy Carter presented Urban with the medal on July 19, 1980 in a ceremony attended by several hundred guests, including 9th Infantry veterans who had served with Urban in combat. According to the citation: "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 Army."
Medal of Honor 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."
Other 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)