As one of the most decorated soldiers in WWII, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Louis Urban is the sort of guy they make movies about, but the story almost had a sad ending. In fact, it almost suffered a sad ending more than once.
The saddest ending might’ve been that the USA failed to recognize Urban for his war efforts. For over thirty years he languished without proper recognition.
Over the course of his time in World War II, bullets or shrapnel wounded Urban six times. It was six times, Urban returned to the battlefield. It was only after the seventh time, a bullet to the neck, that Urban reluctantly retired from the military.
His story reads like a script written for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Early Years – Prior to 1941
Born to an immigrant Polish family in Buffalo, New York, Urban attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. There, he ran track and boxed on the boxing team.
He was also in the ROTC program. These skills, running and fighting, but especially his ROTC training would later prove quite useful to Urban.
He graduated in 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts.
1942 – North Africa
In Tunisia, enemy fire wounded Urban, but he refused to let medics evacuate him. It was just after that, he took out a combat patrol.
It was while they were still in Tunisia, Urban successfully halted a German counterattack. While under fire, Urban killed a German soldier with his trench knife. He took the soldier’s pistol, then fired at the oncoming enemy.
In the counterattack, the Germans hit Urban with grenade shrapnel.
1944 – Renouf, France
After Africa, Urban’s unit relocated to France. During one siege, Germans hit his company hard with small arms and tank fire.
That may have been the end of them, but Urban found a bazooka. He got close enough to the two German tanks to take them both out. His company advanced, forcing the enemy to go another way.
Later that day, bullets from a tank gun pierced his leg. This time he had no choice but seek medical help. They evacuated him to England.
1944 – St Lo, France
Still in recovery from the tank-gun hit, Urban learned that his unit was taking a beating in France. He limped from the hospital, then hitchhiked to his unit. His unit was not advancing.
Urban found a tank with no gunner, stationary, but operational. With nobody to man the machine gun, the tank would not move forward, so Urban took command of the gun.
He ordered the tank to move forward, inspiring the battalion to reinvest in the siege.
Days later, shell fragments hit Urban in the chest, just missing his heart. He refused to let them evacuate him.
Only a few days after that, the battalion commander lost his life. They promoted Urban to the position. Two months later, they promoted him to Major.
For his efforts, they awarded Urban seven purple hearts. It wasn’t until 1980 that President Carter awarded Urban the Medal of Honor along with four other decorations.
All told, the US Army awarded Urban 14 individual decorations for combat. These decorations are what earned Matt Urban the title of the most decorated soldier of WWII.
Urban would finally succumb to his war wounds at age 75. While working one day, his lung collapsed. He did not get back up this time.
His story begs the question, with all the fanfare around stories based on real life, why hasn’t anyone made a movie out of it? They wouldn’t even have to embellish this one.
Just tell the story of Matt Urban, the most decorated soldier of WWII.