A true story of an American hero from World War II will be presented by the Stillwater Lion’s Club in just a few weeks. The presentation, called “Accidental Hero,” focuses on the story of Matt Konop and is told by his own grandson.
Patrick Dewane, Konop’s grandson, thought that his grandfather’s story was lost to history after his death.
“We visited our grandparents often, and my grandfather had all of these Nazi sabers and other war souvenirs in his house, along with his medals proudly displayed in the home,” Dewane said. “I would beg him to tell me his stories, but like most veterans of wars, he never talked about it, so I figured when we buried grandpa when I was 20 that we had buried his stories with him.”
What Dewane didn’t expect was to find them later in an unpublished memoir his grandfather wrote, or the colored movies his grandfather took as he spent 300-plus days on the front lines.
Dewane said that as he read through the stories, he learned that his grandfather spent much of life running away from his Czech past. He grew up in a heavily concentrated population of Czech immigrants in a farming enclave in Wisconsin and didn’t learn his second language, English, until he was 6 years old. At that time Czech immigrants had a stigma of poverty attached to them that Konop wanted to leave behind in his quest to become American.
Konop enlisted in the army and fought on Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge while dealing with some strange circumstances. Then his division was sent on a mission to help liberate southern Czechoslovakia. Since Konop was the only one who spoke Czech, he was assigned as commander of his division to advance toward the country.
Once his division had reached the German border, Konop crossed into Czech lands to see what it would be like.
“After running from his past for so many years, he entered his family’s hometown,” Dewane said.
After talking his way past a guard, Konop let a small resistance group know that they had been liberated by the Americans. Dewane said the group jumped up and hugged and kissed his grandfather as they celebrated with him. They had been under Hitler’s rule for six years.
From that day on, Matt Konop was turned into a folk hero. On May 8 Czechoslovakia was liberated, and there were banners up in the main square of Pilsen that said: “Liberated by one of our own, Matt Konop.”
“The Americans couldn’t go further north because the Russians had been told they could liberate Prague, but my grandfather was given the assignment to announce the Germans’ surrender,” Dewane said. “My grandfather wrote that when he announced it, there was a great cry and an outpouring of emotion as they sang the national anthem, ‘Where is my home?’ for the first time in years. It was a question for him too. And in the end the thing that he was most afraid of, that he ran from and went through all the killing in war, resulted in an epiphany about his heritage.”
The one-man show features history personalized in the voices of those that were part of Konop’s life. Dewane said that he plays his grandfather and grandmother, the general who worked with Konop and others. Dewane also shares the experience from his own perspective throughout the show. Vintage photographs and films by his grandfather are included in the presentation.
Dewane will go to the Czech Republic this May and give a presentation that honors the anniversary of VE-day.
Dewane loves being able to open a channel during his presentations that isn’t usually available to veterans but allows them to have a safe space to tell their stories.
“As much as I love connecting with my grandfather through the telling of his story, it’s the other connections I make with other veterans or their relatives that really keeps me doing this,” Dewane said.
The presentation is April 17 at The Water Street Inn, 101 Water St. S., Stillwater. A social hour with cash bar begins at 6 p.m. and the show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $20 and are available at EventBrite.com or through the Bayport and Stillwater American Legion posts.
Ticket sales end April 13. A traditional Czech dinner will be served before the event for $19.95. To reserve a space for that call 651-439-6000.
Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]