TST, Vol. 9, Issue No. 26/2002
Completing a Final Mission for Matt Louis Urban:
Primus inter pares - First among equals - Pierwszy pomiedzy rownymi
by Anthony J. Bajdek
Lieutenant Colonel Matt Louis Urban is one of them. Their number will perpetually remain the same: 434. They were, and a few still are, the American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who during World War II earned the U. S. Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest honor for members of its Armed Forces, the only decoration given in recognition of conduct in battle above and beyond the call of duty.
A consideration of their harrowing combat accomplishments, as written in their Congressional Medal of Honor citations, is a humbling experience for any reader. I have read their citations. Better than one of every three of them had been killed in action, with the last being killed in action on June 8, 1945. The vast majority of them were ordinary Americans living in extraordinary times. They virtually represented all the enlisted ranks as well as the ranks of commissioned officers. They represented, from December 7, 1941, at the start of the War, through July 29, 1945 when the final Congressional Medal of Honor recipient earned his citation, the spectrum of American servicemen of different ethnicities and races, including Captain Audie Murphy who for many years was held to be America's most-decorated soldier of World War II.
At least nine of those Congressional Medal of Honor recipients had been Americans of Polish descent. There may be others with mothers of Polish ancestry, but their numbers are nearly impossible to determine, without extensive, painstaking research. Therefore, as I begin this article, I believe it worthwhile and fitting indeed to mention the names of the nine that we can identify, there origins, and CMH (i.e., Congressional Medal of Honor)-cited "fields of glory" because in not too many more years they will not be remembered collectively as the memory of World War II fades deeper and deeper into history:
- Sergeant Sylvester Antolak, U. S. Army, Company B, 15th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division, born in St. Clairsville, Ohio, killed in CMH-cited action on 24 May 1944 near Cisternia di Littoria, Italy.
- Private First Class John Dutko, U. S. Army, 3d Infantry Division, born in Dilltown, Pennsylvania, killed in CMH-cited action on 23 May 1944 near Ponte Rotto, Italy.
- Private First Class William J. Grabiarz, U. S. Army, Troop E, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, born in Buffalo, New York, killed in CMH-cited action on 23 February 1945 in Manila, Luzon, the Philippine Islands.
- Private First Class Anthony L. Krotiak, U. S. Army, Company I, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division, born in Chicago, Illinois, killed in CHM- cited action on 8 May 1945 in Balete Pass, Luzon, the Philippine Islands.
- Private First Class Edward J. Moskala, U. S. Army, Company C, 383d Infantry, 96th Infantry Division, born in Chicago, Illinois, killed in CMH-cited action on 9 April 1945 on Kakazu Ridge, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands.
- Sergeant Joseph J. Sadowski, U. S. Army, 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division, born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, killed in CMH-cited action on 14 September 1944 at Valhey, France.
- Second Lieutenant Joseph R. Sarnoski, U. S. Army Air Corps, 43d Bomber Group, born in Simpson, Pennsylvania, killed in CMH-cited action on 16 June 1943 over Buka Area, the Solomon Islands.
- Captain Matt Louis Urban, U. S. Army, 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, born in Buffalo, New York, survived seven separate CMH-cited combat actions on 14 June, 15 June, 25 July, 2 August, 15 August, and 3 September, 1944 in battles in Renouf, Orglandes, and St. Lô, France and in Heer, Belgium.
- Private First Class Frank P. Witek, 1st Batallion, 9th Marines, 3d Marine Division, born in Derby, Connecticut, killed in CMH-cited action on 3 August, 1944 during the Battle of Finegayan at Guam, the Marianas Islands.
This article isn't about whether Matt Urban or Audie Murphy had earned the greater number of decorations in World War II. According to the Total Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, Virginia, Matt Urban, along with Audie Murphy, has the distinction of being the most decorated American combat soldier of the War. Both Urban and Murphy each received 29 decorations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. Consult also the Arlington National Cemetery website on Matt Urban (www.arlingtoncemetery.com/murban.htm) which confirms that his "exploits on WWII battlefields earned him as many citations as the legendary Audie Murphy, thereby making him one of America's most-decorated soldiers."
The flames of that controversy have been fueled by the fact that the 1989 Guinness Book of World Records identified Matt Urban as "The Most Combat-Decorated Soldier in American History" and in the June 11, 1984 issue of PEOPLE Weekly magazine, staff writer Michael Ryan stated in his An American Hero article that a "generation of Americans was taught that Audie Murphy - heroic soldier, Medal of Honor holder, later movie star - was the most decorated U. S. fighting man of World War II. That was true - until 1980, when former Lieutenant Colonel Matt Urban received a spate of honors - including his seventh Purple Heart, a Croix de Guerre, the Legion of Merit and the Congressional Medal of Honor - all of which had been lost in a bureaucratic shuffle at the end of the War. With 29 medals in 20 months, Urban is the most decorated soldier in U. S. history."
We supporters of Urban must be careful not to denigrate Captain Audie Murphy's outstanding CMH-cited exemplary heroism in one battle near Holtzwihr, France on January 26, 1945 in which he was wounded once. Neither should they decry the fact that the United States Postal Service issued, in the year 2000, a commemorative stamp that honored Audie Murphy as well as three other American combat heroes of World Wars I and II. After all, Postal Service regulations require a ten year period following the death of a potential honoree before issuing a commemorative stamp. Audie Murphy died in 1971. Matt Urban died in 1995, thereby making him eligible for a commemorative stamp in 2005.
Urban's story is truly remarkable even by standards established for the Congressional Medal of Honor in that he received the Congressional Medal of Honor not only because in exceeding the typical one or two displays of battlefield courage above and beyond the call of duty but also because, as stated in his Congressional Medal of Honor citation, he uniquely "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 from 14 June to 3 September 1944" in at least five separate battles at Renouf, Orglandes, and St. Lô in France as well as at Heer, Belgium, during which he was wounded many times and for which he received seven Purple Hearts. PEOPLE Weekly reporter Michael Ryan, in the same article of June 11, 1984 noted above, corroborates the unusual quality of Urban's CMH-cited combat actions when he wrote that Matt Urban's "citation is unusual in that it mentions 10 separate acts of bravery that span practically the entire Normandy campaign." During that Normandy campaign, the Germans against whom he fought named then Captain Matt Louis Urban The Ghost because no matter how many times they thought they had killed him, he always came back to fight them again in another place.
Let's consider his Congressional Medal of Honor citation, one that was read publicly by President Jimmy Carter on July 19, 1980, the day when Matt Urban received his Congressional Medal of Honor: "Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain) Urban, 112-22-2414, 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, 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 his 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 Orgalndes, 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 near St. Lô, 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.
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."
First in the summer of 1998, then in the winter of 1999, and recently in the spring of 2001, American motion picture aficionados had the opportunity to view three nostalgic, thought-provoking hit motion pictures, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and Pearl Harbor, being the fictional stories of realistic World War II combat in the European and Pacific Theaters of (Military) Operations respectively. From now until the year 2005 (because United States Postal Service Regulations require a ten year passage of time from the year of the honoree's death before issuing a commemorative stamp), we Polish Americans should be obligated, in my opinion, to work to perpetuate the memory of Lieutenant Colonel Matt Louis Urban (shortened from Urbanowicz), a documented real, not fictional, American hero for the ages, by collecting signatures on petitions urging the United States Postal Service to issue a stamp in his honor in 2005. Friends, forget Rambo, the fictional product of some Hollywood writer's imagination, but teach your children and inform your friends and associates to always remember The Ghost, Matt Louis Urban, the real product of Polish American parents in Buffalo, NY, a high school star athlete, a college student at Cornell University who worked several part time jobs to pay for his tuition and living expenses, and an ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) graduate from Cornell as well.
As far as I am concerned, the matter should not be delayed beyond that point given the fact that Matt Urban himself incredibly had to wait 35 years to receive his Congressional Medal of Honor because of the "bureaucratic shuffle" with his records in our federal government. Unintentional error though it was, it was an injustice to him and his family. It robbed him of national notoriety in the years immediately following the end of World War II when Hollywood film writers and producers would have jumped at the rights to his story as an "All-American" hero.
Among today's most dedicated Polish Americans, that I know of personally, who have labored in collecting signatures as part of the "package" of Postal Service requirements for convincing it to issue a commemorative stamp for Urban in 2005 are John Merten of Toms River, New Jersey, and Walter Stanko of Swansea, Massachusetts. There may be others. Perhaps the widespread distribution of this article will awaken them to the need for coalescing our common mission. That process indeed has already started. This past summer, I had the honor to visit John Merten in his Toms River, New Jersey home. It was through Francis X. Gates of Brooklyn, New York, a fellow National Director of the Polish American Congress, from whom I had learned earlier that Merten, the undisputed East Coast pioneer and leader of the signature-gathering campaign, was desirous of turning over his legendary, laboriously-collected 14,000 signatures for the Matt Urban cause to me, citing both his age and his wife's health as factors contributing to that decision. In accepting his 14,000-signature collection, I promised to pursue our common Polonia mission to a successful conclusion, one that must engage the broader attention and support of our Polish American community nationally. Merten, on his part, stated that "I trust you personally, that you will continue the work, and make it happen. We have to fight for Polish people, we are proud to be Polish, and have to be treated as everybody else, with respect. We need to show what we do and how good we are."
On that day during which he and his wife extended their gracious hospitality, I pleasantly learned that he had been born in Salem, Massachusetts and that his childhood Polish surname had been Mazurczyk! Trained to be a chemical engineer in his early adulthood, he was advised, in a not too surprising story that I've heard paralleled from others of his generation, to consider changing his name because the corporation in which he sought professional employment had several German managers who had been reluctant to hire Polish-surnamed Americans. (Editor's Note: Henry T. Wróbel's story,
Polish Political Power, that appeared in the April/May/June 2001 issue of The Life of Polonia, related his father's problems when he, a valedictorian graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, faced similar obstacles when he began seeking employment in Massachusetts.)
This past fall, I also traveled to the home of another "legend" in the leadership ranks of the Matt Urban signature-gathering cause. Walter Stanko of Swansea, Massachusetts, also a WWII veteran of the 9th Infantry Division has been collecting some 400 to 500 signatures per month for several years, most of which he had been sending to John Merten, but in the last year or so, began sending to me. As the result of the superlative hard work of John Merten and Walter Stanko, I now have the collection of some 17,000 to 18,000 signatures. Though those signatures represent a solid foundation, they alone, in their present quantity, will not suffice for purposes of convincing the Postal Service to issue the commemorative stamp. Those signatures are, in effect, round one of the campaign.
Today, through this edition of The Life of Polonia, I am appealing not only to our PAC/E. Mass. members, LoP subscribers, and friends to collect signatures, but also to all my fellow state division presidents of the Polish American Congress - along with presidents of national fraternal organizations and National Directors-at-large - for assistance in augmenting the number of signatures collected in round one. In short, I am asking each state division president and presidents of national fraternal organizations to have each of your constituencies collect 1,000 signatures no later than June 2002. Please don't complain of the burden. After all, I'm not asking for money, just simple signatures. If Walter Stanko alone can collect 400 to 500 signatures a month in the Narragansett Bay area of southern Massachusetts, an entire state division or national fraternal organization should have no trouble in collecting 1,000 signatures!
I have enclosed a copy of the petition that should be used for the collection of signatures. When we National Directors next meet in the Spring of 2002, I will address round two of the campaign, that being, our lobbying with congressional delegations in all the states in which the Polish American Congress has members, the objective of which is to get the United States Senate and House of Representatives to pass resolutions designed to bring pressure on the United States Postal Service to issue the commemorative stamp in 2005.
So now let's just do it!
Thanks to Mr. Chat Grabowski, Editor - Emeritus of The Post Eagle, Clifton, NJ, I have learned of yet another Polish American recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor during WW II: Second Lieutenant Stephen R. Gregg, U.S. Army, 143d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division, born in New York, NY, survived CMHcited combat action on 27 August 1944, in the vicinity of Montelimar, France. (For Lt. Gregg's story see: http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/mohiia2.htm, and then go to CMH recipients, section G-L, p.7)
To obtain a petition form to collect signatures go to the PAC/E. Mass. web site at www.paceasternmass.org click Links and Petition in Urban web site (or click on Petition).
The PAC letter about the petition and Matt Urban: "PAC letter."
To get a book, very well written autobiography Matt Urban Story by Matt Louis Urban, contact: Richard Tallman, 1715 North Street, Fremont, Ohio 43420. Tel. (419) 334-4142.
Reprinted fron The Life of Polonia published by the Polish American Congress of Eastern Massachusetts