Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers Lt. Col. Matt Louis Urban - Feb 11th, 2004
Posted on 02/10/2004 11:59:59 PM PST by SAMWolf
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One of the Most Decorated American Combat Soldiers of World War II
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Aug. 25, 1919, Buffalo, N.Y.
Lt. Col. Matt Louis Urban
Five days after D-Day, the 9th Infantry Division came ashore at Utah Beach. At the head of the 60th Infantry Regiments Company F was Capt. Matt Urban. A Veteran of the 9ths campaign in North Africa and Sicily, Urban had repeatedly proven himself to be the epitome of an infantry officer.
Just a few days after landing in France, Urban once again proved his mettle. On June 14th, Company F attacked Renouf. Encountering heavy enemy small arms and tank fire, the companys advance ground to a halt. Realizing his unit stood on the verge of decimation, Urban grabbed a bazooka. He told an ammo carrier to follow him, then worked his way through the hedgerows to a point near two panzers. Brazenly exposing himself to the tanks fire, he loaded and fired the bazooka. Within minutes he destroyed both armored vehicles.
Later that same day Company F led an attack into Orglandes. Urban took shrapnel in his leg from an exploding German 37-mm round. He refused evacuation. At 5:00 A.M. the next morning he led his company in yet another attack. An hour later he was hit again. This time there was no doubt; hed have to be evacuated. By noon he was in the back of a truck, the first leg in his journey back to England.
9th Infantry Division Patch
Urbans story begins in Buffalo, New York, where he was born on August 25, 1919. Though his family was not poor money was scarce. Urban worked very hard through his high school years to contribute to the familys coffers. By saving extra money he was able to enter Cornell University in 1937. He earned good grades and excelled in boxing, wining his division in the collegiate championship of 1939.
As a member of Cornells ROTC program, Urban received the call of duty in June 1941. He attended officer candidate school, then joined the 60th Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. By the time the 60th Infantry received orders for overseas shipment in the summer of 1942, Urban held the post of Executive Officer of Company F.
In North Africa Urban quickly demonstrated his heroism and exceptional leadership traits. He earned two Silver Stars and the first of seven Purple Hearts. He also assumed command of Company F after its commanding officer became a casualty.
60th Infantry Regiment Unit Crest
In mid-July 1944, while still recuperating from his wounds received near Orglandes, Urban was visited in the hospital by a wounded man from his company. Urban learned how the exceedingly brutal fighting in Normandy had reduced Company F from a first class fighting machine to a frightened, frustrated, motionless mass of men. Determined to help his men, Urban deserted his hospital bed that very night. Over the next several days the determined Urban hitched his way back to France. Still wearing his bandages Urban rejoined his demoralized company the morning of July 25th. As a sergeant remembered, The sight of him limping up the road, all smiles, raring to lead the attack, once more brought the morale of the battle-weary men to the highest peak. Urban well remembers that day. I was full of anger, remorse, and despair. Id seen my men mutilated, chopped up. I was seeking revenge. I was like a tiger. It was all bubbling up inside of me, and it exploded.
Urban began his exploits that very afternoon by rescuing a wounded man from a burning tank. Late that evening his battalions attack upon a well-entrenched German position located atop a prominent hill stalled under fierce fire. Two supporting tanks had been destroyed and a third, although intact, did not move. Urban located the lieutenant in charge of the supporting armor and laid out a plan of attack to reduce the hill position.
Near St. Lo, France -- July 15, 1944
The lieutenant and a sergeant were killed by the intense enemy fire as they tried to climb aboard the immobile tank. Urban, though hobbling because of his leg wound, dashed through the unrelenting enemy fire and mounted the tank. As enemy rounds hit all around him, he ordered the tank forward. He armed the .50-caliber machine gun. While the tank fired its cannon into the enemy positions Urban followed up with well-aimed bursts of fire.
I was crying as I went up that hill, Urban remembered, I thought I was a goner, that I was headed for certain death.
But he didnt die. Unscathed, he reached the top of the hill. Alone he had destroyed the enemy positions holding up his battalion.
Over the next five weeks Urban repeatedly displayed his fearless heroism. On August 2nd he received his fifth wound. Against the battalion surgeons advice Urban stayed with his company. Four days later the battalion commander became a casualty. Over officers more senior in rank and age, Urban was selected to take his place. On August 15th, while at the forefront of his battalions attack, Urban was wounded for the sixth time.
Urbans battalion crossed the Meuse River near Heer, Belgium, on September 2nd. The lead elements immediately ran into a fierce barrage of enemy artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire. As was his custom, Urban left his command post to personally lead the GIs across the river. As he moved across open ground, an exploding mortar shell drove shrapnel deep into his throat. Although unable to speak above a whisper, he refused to leave the battlefield until assured his men had made it across the river. Only then did he agree to let the medics evacuate him. The next day while Urban sailed back to England aboard a hospital ship, the Germans counterattacked his battalion. Those GIs who werent killed were captured. Among them was S. Sgt. Earl G. Evans who had served with Urban since North Africa. After Urban rode the tank into the German position in Normandy, Evans overheard a battalion officer say he was going to recommend Urban for the Medal of Honor. Unfortunately, that man died in the fighting at the Meuse.
Soldiers of 60th Infantry Regiment advance into a Belgian town under the protection of a heavy tank.
National Archives Photo
When Sgt. Evans was repatriated in July 1945 he wrote a letter to the War Dept. recommending Urban for a Medal of Honor. The War Dept. forwarded it to the commanding General of the 9th Division, on occupation duty in Germany. It never arrived. But a copy of Evans letter was placed in Urbans personal file.
In the meantime, Urban had recuperated from his wounds. He received a promotion to LTC in October 1945. Five months later he received a medical discharge. Among his medals were counted 2 Silver Stars, 1 Legion of Merit, 3 Bronze Stars, and 7 Purple Hearts. He knew nothing of Evans letter.
After Urban requested information and his official file was 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.
The postwar years passed peacefully for Urban. On July 19th 1980, 36 years after the fact, President Carter hung the Medal of Honor around Urbans neck. Befitting the occasion, the presentation was made before veterans of the 9th Division at their reunion in Washington DC. President Carter said, Matt Urban showed that moments of terrible devastation can bring out courage. His actions are a reminder to this nation so many years later of what freedom really means.
The Germans nicknamed Matt Urban der Geist meaning the Ghost because he always came back after they thought he was gone.
Matt Urban died in March 1995 from a collapsed lung that had been injured in one of his numerous combat actions in 1944.
At the end of WW I, a new independent Poland was created from territory previously held by Germany, Austria, and Russia. Poland thus regained the independence it had lost in 1795.
Almost immediately the new Polish Republic was invaded from the east by the Bolsheviks. In the spring of 1919, Merian C. Cooper, a former U.S. Air Service pilot in France, was visiting the Polish battle lines as the head of American relief work in southern Poland. When he saw the sacrifices being made by the Poles to defend their new nation, he thought of the possibility of an American volunteer squadron, similar to the Lafayette Escadrille of 1916, to assist them. He immediately went to Paris where he met a friend, Cedric E. Fauntleroy, who had been a combat pilot during the war. Together, they received official permission to recruit former U.S. flyers for a Polish squadron.
Seventeen Americans volunteered their services to Poland and they formed the Kosciuszko Squadron, named in honor of tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish patriot who had fought so well in the American Revolution under George Washington.
These 17 men fought for Poland under difficult hardships. Repeatedly they flew bombing and strafing missions against hordes of Cossacks from the east. Also their supply of food, clothing, and equipment was seldom adequate. For example, the Polish Air Service had to use whatever airplanes it could obtain, so it was forced to purchase both Allied and German airplanes left over from WW I.
The Bolshevik invasion ended in May 1921 with victory for the Poles, and those members of the Kosciuszko Squadron still alive were discharged from further duty.
Merian C. Cooper in his Polish Air Service uniform.
Cedric E. Fauntleroy in his Polish Air Service uniform.
Good advice, now see my home page. We bought dinner for an entire crew!!
Another excellent thread. And to think, this American hero from NY State was not too far from me. My uncle, who landed at Utah Beach may have even served under him, I'll have to check.
Sure will, I'm curious to know now.
To all our military men and women, past and present,
THANK YOU for serving the USA!
Polish contribution to the RAF in WW-2
First Polish pilots started reaching England in December 1939, following the British agreement to accept a contingent of 300 Polish aircrew and 2,000 of support personnel. The British were at first reluctant to use them for operational duties, but after the German invasion of France, in view of her imminent collapse, the Air Ministry agreed to form two Polish bomber squadrons, as part of the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve. Sir Hugh Dowding strongly opposed forming Polish fighter squadrons - for which the Polish government in exile pressed very hard - but in view of rapidly deteriorating military situation, with Britain's very survival depending on the Few fighter pilots it could muster, an agreement was finally reached on August 5, 1940. Four bomber and two fighter squadrons would be formed. These would formally constitute an independent Polish Air Force, operationally however they would be under British command.
In the meantime, even more Polish pilots had reached England following the collapse of France, and in July several of them had already been posted to British squadrons in the ranks of RAF Voluntary Reserve.
British reluctance to accept Polish aircrew into RAF was understandable, even though in the end it proved unfounded. John Kent, a Canadian posted in August 1940 as a flight commander to 303 Squadron later remarked, All I knew about the Polish Air Force was that it had resisted the Luftwaffe for about three days. While it wasn't exactly the truth, it was generally thought that after two lost campaigns (Polish and French) the pilots' morale must have been low, and their skills remained largely an unknown. Another important factor was that few of them knew English, so they would be difficult to incorporate into the British defensive network which relied heavily on radio communications. But the ever increasing casualties and insufficient supply of new pilots finally forced the RAF to accept into service foreigners, of whose Poles were the largest group.
On July 16, first four Polish pilots were posted to British No 145 and No 253 squadrons. Three days later, Pilot Officer Antoni Ostowicz of 145 Sqn. scored the first victory for Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain, sharing a Messerschmitt Bf 110 with a British pilot. Ever since, the number of pilots fighting in British squadrons steadily increased, to reach its peak of 73 in October. Victories followed, but so did casualties - on August 11 Antoni Ostowicz, the same pilot who had scored the opening victory, became the first casualty, having been meanwhile awarded two more confirmed kills.
F/Sgt Antoni Glowacki and P/O Stefan Witorzenc of 501 Sqn - two of many Polish Battle of Britain aces
During the intensive fighting in August, first Polish aces were made. Witold Urbanowicz, posted to No 145 Squadron, claimed four victories, and added thirteen more in September, after being moved to the all-Polish 303 Squadron. Both Boleslaw Wlasnowolski and Karol Pniak scored five victories in the Battle, but while the former was killed on November 1, the latter was destined to survive the war. Stanislaw Skalski of 501 Squadron, who had scored 4.5 victories in the Polish campaign, scored five more in the Battle, before being shot down and wounded in early September. In the same 501 Squadron, two other Polish pilots became aces - Stefan Witorzenc with five victories, and Antoni Glowacki, who on August 24 enjoyed a remarkable success, shooting down no fewer than five German aircraft in one day, for a total of eight in the Battle. Not everybody shared such luck, though. Throughout the Battle, a total of 16 Polish pilots flying in British squadrons were killed, and several others seriously wounded. 11 and 12 August were especially grim, with five pilots killed in the space of just two days. On August 18, Franciszek Kozlowski - again of 501 Squadron - was shot down by German ace Gerhard Schopfel, during his famous sortie when he downed four Hurricanes without being seen - the infamous British 'vic' squadron formation was to blame for his success.
Meanwhile, on 15 August, the first all-Polish fighter unit - 302 City of Poznan Hurricane Squadron based at Leconfield - reached operational readiness in the No 12 Fighter Group. Flying mostly convoy patrols, the pilots rarely had a chance to engage in combat, and as a result shot down only three German bombers until they were moved to Duxford on September 14 as part of the 'Big Wing', led by the indomitable Douglas Bader.
Polish 303squadron scramble!!
On September 15, the wing was scrambled twice, and for the first time 302 Squadron engaged in large scale combat. While on their first sortie the pilots got a clean shot at German bombers, on the second they were engaged by German escorts. Overall, the squadron claimed 11 victories, at the cost of three Hurricanes and one pilot.
On September 18 the squadron was scrambled three times, and in the last sortie intercepted a German formation, claiming five victories with no losses on its part. In the following days the weather deteriorated, and finally, as enemy activity was losing its intensity, on September 25 the squadron moved back to Leconfield, to resume its regular duties. It remained there till October 11, when it was moved to Northolt in place of 303 Sqn. Any hopes of a significant boost to the squadron's tally were quickly abandoned however, as the good 'hunting season' was over, with weather getting progressively worse, and only German Jabo (fighter-bomber) formations appearing over England. On October 15 the squadron was scrambled to intercept a formation of about 60 Messerschmitts Bf 109, and in the resulting fight two Bf 109s were shot down, at the cost of two Hurricanes, with two other damaged. Throughout that period, however, the weather proved more dangerous an enemy than the Germans, and five pilots were killed in October as the result of bad weather conditions. Especially tragic was October 18, when the squadron was scrambled in late afternoon in very difficult weather, and four pilots crashed into the ground while returning to the airfield (one of them was a British instructor attached to the squadron). Overall, during the Battle of Britain, 302 Squadron was awarded 17 confirmed victories, three of which were scored by British pilots flying with the squadron.
The second Polish fighter squadron which took part in the Battle, 303 Kosciuszko Squadron entered the Battle on August 30, and from the beginning took part in intensive action. Throughout its stay at Northolt in the 11th Fighter Group - which bore the brunt of fighting during the Battle - the squadron achieved phenomenal success. With 125 confirmed victories to its credit, in the space of mere five weeks it became the top-scoring squadron of the entire Fighter Command. Please see the 303 Squadron Battle Diary page for a more detailed look at the squadron's involvement in the Battle.
When examining the importance of the Polish contribution during the Battle, the first look, as usual, has to be at the numbers. Overall, 144 Polish pilots took part in the Battle, and scored 201.5 confirmed victories (17 of which were scored by the famous Czech ace, Josef Frantisek, who officially was a member of the Polish Air Force). 29 pilots were killed (including several in accidents), many more or less severely wounded. While this yields quite an impressive 'kill ratio', in terms of pure numbers can hardly seem a decisive factor (the entire RAF claimed 2698 'confirmed' victories). However, the statistics don't tell the most important thing. It is generally agreed that the single most important factor that could have lead to British defeat was the shortage of pilots. As the result, the British were forced to rely on their allies to fill this gap, and Polish pilots, with their excellent pre-war training and experience from two campaigns performed beautifully in that role. They were ferocious fighters. With their homeland in enemy hands and news of Nazi atrocities in the occupied Poland reaching them on almost daily basis, unsure of the fate of their close ones, they took their hate into the air with them - as is best testified in this excerpt from the diary of a German Heinkel pilot (it's also an interesting snapshot of brain-washed Nazi mentality):
Moeller says that Poles are excellent pilots. He's not the first to say that, others have noticed that too. They're unpredictable, they fight fiercely like dogs, damned well at that. Moeller says you can feel in the air how they hate us. Personally, I don't have such feelings towards them. Why should I? After all, it wasn't us who started the war and, equally well, they could now be attacking England with us [sic!]. However, people often don't know what's good for them. Many of them don't even know why they hate us .
In terms of numbers, in the crucial days of September 1940, every one in eight pilots of the Fighter Command was a Pole, and 303 Squadron's contribution was nothing short of amazing.
Nor was the success of Polish fighter pilots lost on the British in the long run. No more difficulties in expanding the Polish Air Force were made after the Battle. By the end of 1940, three more fighter squadrons - No. 306, 307 (night) and 308 were formed, to be joined by No. 315, 316 and 317 in early 1941. By the end of 1943, a total of 14 Polish Squadrons (ten of them fighter sqns.) and a complete infrastructure were in existence, making the Polish Air Force the fourth largest Allied air force of the war.
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