The Accidental Hero is a multi-media one-man show about a WWII American officer who miraculously liberates the Czech villages of his grandparents. It's a true story, written and performed by his grandson.
Patrick Dewane's grandfather refused to talk about his service in the war. Yet when he died, his basement yielded a treasure trove of typewritten accounts, photos and rare film footage.
Dewane brings this archival material to glowing life as an enthralling, humorous and heartwarming tale of miraculous escapes and astonishing coincidences. This touching show runs from belly laughs to tears. Dewane takes on a dozen different roles as he powerfully recounts his grandfather's journey from Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, and the end of WWII. In the last week of the war, Konop's story turns away from a soldier's survival tale to something from mythology. He discovers his lost identity, embraced by the tribe he never knew. Like Luke Skywalker, Konop thought he was just fighting the Evil Empire, in this case the Nazis. But unlike Skywalker, this story is true. His was an epic homecoming. As he freed the Czechs, they liberated him.
Audiences across the US and the Czech Republic have thrilled to this remarkable, uplifting story from The Greatest Generation. Konop's grandparents had left the Old Country in the 1860s to pursue the American Dream. Konop was raised with their language, Czech, but expected to "become American." To get ahead, he needed to discard the old ways and his first language. Dropped into WWII, his fluency in Czech got him the dangerous assignment of commanding the Advance Party to liberate Czechoslovakia. And once at the Czech border, his curiosity drew him into the country of his grandparents, well ahead of the rest of his division. What he found changed his life. The Czechs couldn't believe the miracle of "being liberated by one of our own." He couldn't believe the hero's welcome that greeted him. It deeply changed his notion of what it meant to be both Czech and American.
However, like many of his generation Matt Konop didn't talk about the war when he returned. His story vanished with passing time. Back in Czechoslovakia, the Communist coup of 1948 brought an ugly, repressive regime that would last the rest of Konop's life. The Communists also changed the official history of WWII and eliminated the fact that the US Army had liberated Southwestern Czechoslovakia. So while Konop's story faded in America, it was illegal to tell it in Czechoslovakia. When Konop died in 1983 his family knew little of his heroics, and the Czechs were forbidden to talk about it. At Konop's funeral, there was no American flag on the casket, no bugler playing taps at the grave. It seemed his war stories were buried with him.
Twenty years after his death, his long-forgotten writings were discovered in a family basement. Along with his war manuscript were reels of color and black and white film he shot during the war on a Kodak 8mm handheld camera (see his left hand in the photo above). Konop's grandson, Patrick Dewane, became obsessed with what was found and turned the story, film footage and period music into The Accidental Hero, a 90-minute one-man show.
Back in Czechoslovakia, the 1989 Velvet Revolution toppled the Communist regime and the Czechs were once again free. The cities that had been liberated by the US Army in WWII embraced their formerly-supressed history, their special connection to America. These Czech cities -- Pilsen, Domazlice and Klatovy -- commemorate the end of WWII and their American liberators with large celebrations each May. Hundreds of Czechs spend the first week of May dressed in US Army WWII uniforms and parading their vintage US Army jeeps, trucks and other vehicles. Dozens of American WWII veterans, men now in their 80s and 90s, still return for the festivities. Patrick Dewane has performed The Accidental Hero at these celebrations each year since 2012.
On May 5, 2015 a bronze plaque honoring Matt Konop was dedicated on the main square of Domazlice, Czech Republic. The plaque includes a relief of Konop being carried on the shoulders of the townspeople in the very same square. The bronze memorial is just a few meters from a black granite plaque commemorating the US Army's liberation of Domazlice. That plaque had been taken down during the Communist regime from 1948 - 1989, the same period when it was illegal to speak of the American role in the liberation of Czechoslovakia. That plaque has been a scoreboard for freedom -- when it is up the Czechs are free.
The owner of the building with Konop's plaque quipped at its dedication, "the Communists will need to remove me first before this plaque to Matt Konop ever moves from my family's building."
In a speech in Domazlice's main square on May 5, 2015, US Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro said, "The US Army didn't come here in 1945 to take territory or resources. It came simply with an idea: freedom."
For Matt Konop, the remarkable events of May, 1945 changed him profoundly. As commander of a liberation force, he was freed of his misunderstanding of his own identity.
His story, once lost, is now told with great joy by his grandson.
Remarkable! An Amazing Story.
Difficult to categorize, but impossible to forget—those are the best words I can find to sum up my reaction to a recent production of Patrick Dewane’s one-man show “The Accidental Hero.” Whether thought of as a monologue, docudrama, reminiscence—or some other creative designation that does not come readily to mind—its unique mix of narration with multi-media enhancements has more to offer prospective audience members than any could anticipate in advance.
Daniel Freeman, Smithsonian Institute