Sometime in the early 90’s I had the chance to meet Lt. Col. Matt Urban. He is said to be the most decorated soldier of WWII. Long before Sunny and I were married, I was helping out at the family market in Pomona where Col. Urban walked in to buy a drink. We started talking and I asked him where he was from. That led to a tw0-hour conversation with a true American hero. Col. Urban was a soldier who knew the meaning of sacrifice, faithfulness, loyalty, and love. It wasn’t until years later that I would appreciate the impact of this great American soldier. He was staying at the Fairplex Sheraton while doing a national book tour, and yet, on that day, he stood there with me sharing his story and urging me to become a man worthy of respect and honor.
He had received seven purple hearts, and he was a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor as well as numerous citations for valor in combat. As a man he was not very big. His gait wobbled by war wounds and his raspy bullet-scarred voice was not that easy to understand, but with all the seemingly physical limitations, it seemed that I was standing next to the biggest man I had ever met.
What I learned from this man among men were two lessons. First, a man is defined by his character not his accomplishments. Whether Colonel Urban or Audy Murphy, neither of these “heroes” of WWII had any intent of fighting for the sake of becoming a hero. Both of, but in particular, Col. Urban, because I met him personally, knew the importance of their character. I asked the Colonel “You know, sir, most men would have taken a purple heart and would have gone home. What made you return to the battlefield so many times? Why did you keep going back to fight?” His answer to me had a dramatic impact on my life. He said, “I loved those boys as my own brothers. I couldn’t leave them there to die. I figured since I led them into battle, and they were willing to follow me, I had to lead them out.” He had a distant look in his eyes as he said, “I couldn’t leave them there.”
The second lesson I learned was that love is a sacrfice. As a captain in the US Army, Matt Urban loved his men–probably, and hopefully, more than he hated the war. At the time, I remember wishing “I want to know that kind of love.” Of course, I had known it. It was evidenced on the cross. It’s the kind of love that is very rare in this modern techno world with soft men who know nothing of such devotion to God, family, country, friends… So few men in our society understand the commitment and sacrifice that love entails.
It has been my persistent prayer that God would make of me a man of love and a man of character. I am grateful that I was privileged to spend a couple of hours in conversation with one of the great men of the United States–a soldier, a friend, a man. As it turns out Lt. Col. Matt Urban died in 1995, just a couple of years after I met him, but I feel that the lessons of his sacrifices are etched on my heart.