thought about Matt Urban again yesterday. I’ve been thinking about America’s
most decorated combat soldier a lot lately as the war to liberate Iraq continues.
Yesterday, I saw a picture of a mother of one of the U.S. Marines killed
in action near Nasiriyah, weeping. An immigrant from Mexico with only basic
knowledge of English, her family had already given her new country more than
most of the TV news anchors giving their opinions about the conduct of the
As in the last Gulf War and Vietnam, the critics like to point out how the
poor, the blue-collar guys, and the immigrants and their children seemed
to be over-represented in our armed forces. It is true.
Matt Urban was one of those. The son of Polish immigrants from Buffalo, Urban
collected 7 Purple hearts, 2 Silver Stars, 3 Bronze Stars, and the Congressional
Medal of Honor during his service in World War II. He had the singular gift
of being able to galvanize his men into almost suicidal acts of courage.
In one incident, the still-wounded Captain Urban checked himself out of a
Normandy hospital and rejoined his unit, which was pinned down by strong
German resistance and had just lost two of its field officers. A sergeant
later said: "One of the craziest officers suddenly appeared before us, yelling
like a madman and waving a gun in his hand. . . . He got us on our feet,
though, gave us our confidence back and saved our lives." Urban climbed on
top of a tank and firing its machine gun advanced on the enemy position.
His men followed and routed the enemy. (See http://www.arlingtoncemetery.com/murban.htm)
During World War II, it was the Italians, the Jews, or the Poles who were
over-represented on the battlefield and before them it was the Irish, the
Germans, and the Scandinavians. And today?
It seems that when immigrants come here, they are not looking for minority
set-asides and quotas (the positions of vocal and aggressive community leaders
notwithstanding). They don’t seem to care about special programs or being
"appreciated" for 15 minutes in some multicultural celebration day.
Instead, they want to become Marines. Or they want to join the Army, the
Navy, or the Air Force. In the military they have as level playing field
as one can get in life, one that rewards their courage and their initiative.
They are not treated as being "special" or as victims in need of special
help from rich, white liberals. Once they’ve served, they have adopted the
hopes and dreams of this country as their own and have become Americans in
a way that nothing can change or take away.
This is why the poor, the working class, and the immigrants are over-represented
in our armed forces, not from "false consciousness" or from being oppressed.
It is a conscious act of sacrifice for their future, for their families,
and for something greater than themselves. To see them as victims in need
of special programs insults and cheapens who they are what they are doing.
As I watch the coverage of the war from Iraq, I wonder where our next Matt
Urban will come from. Who will be the next new American to lead his troops
to victory against seemingly impossible odds? Who will brave a hail enemy
fire to rescue a downed comrade?
Maybe they will come from a home where comfort food means tamales rather
than pierogi. Maybe they will be Laotian or Vietnamese. Or maybe even Iraqi.
John Radzilowski, Ph.D., is a Minnesota-based writer and editor.
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