In a war, there are many heroes, and all too often, many of them are unsung heroes, who heroic acts all but go unnoticed. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Urban was one of those heroes, who actually became an Urban Legend, because of his uncanny ability to seemingly come back from the dead. Urban was one of the most decorated American officers of World War II. He fought in seven campaigns and was wounded seven times. Each time he was wounded, he seemingly came back to life…so often, in fact, that the Germans gave him the nickname “the Ghost.” When he was given the Medal of Honor, his citation referred to ten separate acts of bravery during the Normandy campaign alone.
To name a few of the heroic and maybe just a little bit crazy acts of bravery, Urban took on multiple enemy tanks with a bazooka, all while walking on a cane because he’d broken his leg landing on Utah Beach. He organized multiple counterattacks after nearly having his leg blown off, then breaking himself out of the hospital, hitchhiking to the front, immediately throwing himself into battle, running into an abandoned tank and driving it toward the enemy line with no crew!! He was wounded again and again, but refused to be evacuated. Finally, a bullet in the throat took him out of combat for good. His reign of terror against the Germans was over, but not his life. Once again, the Germans couldn’t kill “the Ghost.” Urban recovered, survived the war, and lived until 1995. Urban died on March 4, 1995, in Holland, Michigan, at the age of 75. The cause of death was a collapsed lung, reportedly due to his war injuries. He is buried in Plot: Section 7a, Grave 40 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
“Matt Louis Urban was a highly decorated United States Army combat soldier who served with distinction as an infantry officer in the Mediterranean and European Theater of Operations during World War II. He scouted, led charges upfront, and performed heroically in combat on several occasions despite being wounded. He retired after World War II as a lieutenant colonel. Urban received over a dozen individual decorations for combat from the U.S. Army, including seven Purple Hearts. In 1980, he received the Medal of Honor and four other individual decorations for combat belatedly for his actions in France and Belgium in 1944. In Section 7a of the “Prominent Military Figures”
Matt Urban was born Matthew Louis Urbanowicz in Buffalo, New York, to Polish immigrant Stanley Urbanowicz, a plumbing contractor. His mother Helen was born in Depew, New York. He attended East High School in Buffalo, and graduated in 1937. Urban had three brothers: Doctor Stanley (Urbanowicz) Urban, Arthur (Urbanowicz) Urban, and Eugene, who died in 1927 from appendicitis. In the fall of 1937, he enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, majoring in history and government with a minor in community recreation. He graduated on June 14, 1941, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. For reasons unknown, he used the name Matty L. Urbanowitz during his last year of college. While at Cornell University, he was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), the track and boxing teams, and the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity. Nevertheless, his greatest accomplishment was that of the Urban Legend known as “the Ghost.”