Bio: Urban Bros., Joe & Bob (Honored for Military
Service - 2015)
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
Surnames: Urban, MacArthur, Jordahl
----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 4/29/2015
Urban Brothers, Joe and Bob (Honored for Military Service - 4 May 2015)
Urban Brothers to be Honored for Their Military Service
By Todd Schmidt
Bob Urban (left) 90 and Joe Urban, 91, both of Neillsville, will be honored for their military service at the May 4 Neillsville American Legion meeting. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)
Brothers Joe and Bob Urban of Neillsville will be honored for their military service to their country with a special combination presentation at the Neillsville American Legion Monday, May 4, 2015. A potluck meal starts at 6 p.m. with the awards and meeting to follow.
Two young lads from Door County area grew up together in the small town of Jacksonport located on the shore of Lake Michigan. They enjoyed water skiing, swimming and fishing, thinking nothing of catching 100 sizeable perch in an hour for the fish fry at the family’s local supper club.
They both graduated from Sevastopol High School. From there, they took separate paths before being reunited in the family automobile business in Neillsville.
During his senior year of high school, Bob worked the night shift at the L D Smith ship building plant in Sturgeon Bay. A recruiter came in from the U. S. Maritime Services/U.S. Merchant Marine (Coast Guard) to talk to the workers.
Bob went to Milwaukee in December 1943 for a physical. He signed on and attended boot camp at Sheepshead Bay, NY, with 33 other recruits. They were trained in seamanship, engines, guns, gas masks and how to use deck equipment.
The unit eventually sailed on tankers until July 1946. Bob advanced from mess man to second cook and baker to chief cook to steward.
‘At one point as chief steward my pay was $145 per month plus $8 over-time,’ Bob said. ‘When we sailed through the South Pacific the Japs were shooting at us all the time.’
Bob received ribbons for serving in the Atlantic and Pacific. He said his uniforms are stored in the attic with the medals still pinned on.
He has a recognition letter from General of the Army Douglas MacArthur: ‘I commend you on the valor of the merchant Seamen participating with us in the liberation of the Philippines,’ MacArthur wrote. ‘With us they have shared the heaviest enemy fire. On these islands I have ordered them off their ships and into foxholes when their ships became targets of attack. At our side they have suffered in bloodshed and death. They have contributed tremendously to our success. I hold no branch in higher esteem than the Merchant Marine Service.’
Merchant Seamen supplied the military with 90 percent of its supplies. One out of every three Merchant Marine servicemen was a war casualty.
‘They always said our armed forces were as strong as the Merchant Marines made them,’ Bob said.
Bob recalled traveling through the Panama Canal, loading fighter planes and high-octane fuel in New Guinea and loading supplies in Hawaii. He still has paperwork showing service on eight different ships.
In 1944, his assigned ship was sent to Jacksonville for propeller repair and replacement of bearings. He used the two-week furlough to return home, pick up his fiancée Grace and head to Dubuque, IA, to get married by a justice of the peace.
At one point in 1945, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the ship at point blank range. ‘The sub turned away,’ Bob said. ‘They must have been out of torpedoes.’
At the end of the war, orders were given to dispose of weapons and supplies. ‘We had to throw everything over the side of the ship, including weapons.’ Bob said. ‘I remember seeing a bulldozer digging big holes to bury brand new jeeps. I guess it was cheaper to do that than haul them home.’
He said other branches of the service did not recognize the merchant Marine until 1989. At that point, they became eligible for VA benefits.
After WWII, Bob worked for a short time as a mechanic for the Chevy dealer in Algoma.
He was a solid player for the Neillsville Athletics baseball team, batting .556 in the 1947 season.
He and Grace had three children, Chuck, Dawn Marie and Tyler. Dawn Marie passed away in 1990 after a battle with cancer, Grace passed away in March 2012.
Bob has been a Legion member for many years. Former treasurer, Jim Jordahl recruited him. Bob used to help out with smelt feeds and other projects.
In 1950, Bob joined the Neillsville Fire Department. He served as a fireman for 41 years, several years as assistant chief and 21 years as chief. He retired in 1990.
Bob designed the new fire hall, which is located on the site of the former Condensery building. ‘Our fire hall used to be where the police station is now,’ Bob said. ‘We had seven units stuffed in there.’
He ran the shop at Urban Sale and Service for many years, with Joe handling the sales and administrative functions. After they sold the business, Bob continued to work for the new owners until Tyler built his own shop. He then worked for his son ‘part-time’ until retiring at age 77.
He and Grace loved to travel, visiting Haiti, Hawaii, Mexico, Nassau and wintering in McAllen, TX.
Bob said he was glad he served his country.
‘I was happy to help support the troops,’ he said. ‘At times I didn’t like the way some things went.’
Joe was salutatorian of his high school class. He received a scholarship and attended UW-Madison.
The Japanese hit Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941 Urban began a track into the U. S. Army. He received a one-year deferment, meaning he could attend two more semesters of college. Joe was drafted into the Army in August 1943.
He took a test in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), graduating as a second lieutenant. He attended training at Ft. Benning, GA, and at Ripon College.
In March 1944, the Army terminated the ASTP. Joe headed out on a troop train, making stops at Neosho, MO, and Camp Crowder. He passed a high-speed radio operator course with the Spec 777 group and was assigned as part of an 18-man unit with the 3118 Signal Service BTN at Gen. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.
The unit embarked on the Queen Elizabeth for a nine-day trip to Glasgow, Scotland. Then they moved to a rehabilitation camp in Birmingham, England.
The unit went through France to Viemar, Germany, where they were put up in a bombed-out hotel building.
‘The town had a terrible smell,’ Joe said. ‘We asked what the hell was going on. Turns out it was a prison camp, and the odor was from incinerators that were used to burn bodies. Burned human flesh is an awful smell.’
Joe was then sent to Frankfurt, Germany, as part of the occupation force. He was put on a receiver’s site job, signaling to other cities. The radio frequency was changed three times per day.
In December 1945, the unit was notified it was to be shipped home. They were routed by train through Calais and Pontiac. Many of the servicemen became sick with diarrhea. Eventually they pulled into New York Harbor, and then to the Great Lakes Training Center at Great Lakes, IL. Joe received his honorable discharge in February 1946.
‘I was very proud of serving my country,’ Joe said.
He then participated in a number of business deals before concentrating on the automobile dealer ship in Neillsville with his father Joe Sr. and his brother Bob.
Joe and Peg had two children, Marybeth and Dick.
Joe and Peg traveled to all 50 states and nine foreign countries. They wintered in Florida for 40 years. She passed away in October 2010.
Joe was a member of the Neillsville Area Chamber of Commerce. He sponsored a number of bowling and golf teams. Peg was a star bowler for many years.
He has been a member of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church since 1947. Joe had a serious heart attack in Florida in 1999 and underwent triple bypass surgery.
He was involved with Legion golfing and bowling activities and other festivities. Joe now stays busy playing cards (Sheepshead and cribbage) at least six days per week.
Joe was a member of the UW-Badger Band in 1941. He relished being recognized at the Badger Band concert held in February, 2015, at the Fieldhouse.
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