'The Accidental Hero' Details Czech Villages' Serendipitous WWII Liberation
The Accidental Hero is a one-man show detailing the true story of an American officer in World War II. It’s written and performed by Patrick Dewane, the grandson of the play’s protagonist.
For years, Dewane would visit his grandparents' house and see WWII memorabilia decorating the house. He would beg his grandfather, Matt Konop, to tell him war stories, but he wouldn't talk.
Konop died in 1983 and Dewane "figured that we buried grandpa with his stories."
Twenty years later, Dewane's sister found their grandfather's long forgotten writings in their aunt's basement. It turned out that the "last few years of his life he wrote down his story, and I couldn't believe what he said, it was just extraordinary."
Dewane says this story was not just "a soldier's tale," but "something out of an epic." Konop had grown up in rural Wisconsin as a child of Czech immigrants."His grandparents were the pioneers that came over," he says,
Konop had a complicated relationship with his Czech background. In those days "the Irish kids, and the German kids, and the others with the better farms, would make fun of the Czechs," explains Dewane. He says that his grandfather sort of "married up" by marrying his grandmother, and that enlisting in the army "was his way to ascend, to become 'American.'" Konop ended up a lieutenant colonel in the army.
Dewane explains that during "the last week of the war, of all the divisions, his was given the assignment to liberate southern Czechoslavakia. Because he spoke Czech, he was made the commander of the advanced party. So he and 500 men had to go 200 miles behind enemy lines. He gets to the border, and decides that he's going to sneak in and see what its like, to snoop around. He's in charge, so he can do that. The closest Czech town to where they were camped was this little dot on the map that was his grandmother's home town... He goes into [this] town, stumbles into the meeting of the local resistance, tells them, in their language, that they're free. And this thing that he was always kind of ambivalent about, his Czech background...is what made him so valuable to his country, to his army."
Dewane describes that the Czech people were abundantly happy to have been liberated "by one of their own," and that they "made him into a folk hero," as "he was carried on the shoulders of people who probably shared his DNA."
Dewane decided to write a script for a one-man play since his grandfather's story would come up frequently at parties or social gatherings. Upon hearing the story people "would just sit there and say 'really? that really happened?!'" Many commented that a movie should be made about the story, notes Dewane, and after playing with the idea, he decided to write a script.
The story speaks to people, he says because, "the fundamental question is 'who am I?' and then [my grandfather] gets to see the reality, the truth, about who he was, about what it meant to be Czech."