Story of ‘Accidental Hero’ comes to life
The story of one soldier’s incredible experiences during World War II is recounted by that man’s grandson in “The Accidental Hero,” which will be performed at 7 p.m. May 24 at the Sheldon Theatre.
The multimedia show is presented by the Sheldon as part of the Veterans Art Experience 2014, organized by the Red Wing Arts Association.
Patrick Dewane created the one-man play about his grandfather Matt Konop, a Czech-American soldier who fought in the forests of his ancestors’ homeland. Konop, who spoke the language, became a hero after he declared the liberation of the city of Pilsen.
The Sheldon called the production “an astonishing one-man play about history, the reality of war and the mystery of heroes.” The Minneapolis Star-Tribune called it “an enthralling, humorous and heartwarming tale of miraculous escapes and astonishing coincidences.”
When Dewane was growing up, Konop refused to tell stories about the war. But after his death a family member found Konop’s typewritten accounts, photos and rare film footage documenting his experiences.
Dewane uses this archival material to tell the story. He takes on different roles as he recounts Konop’s journey through the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Czechoslovakia and the discovery of his own roots.
“I have performed my one-man show ‘The Accidental Hero’ over 100 times in venues across the country and in the Czech Republic,” Dewane said.
He has found that people in smaller communities recognize themselves in the stories he tells. However, he added, the show also has been a success in New York City, in Texas and Iowa, on college campuses and in veterans centers, at more than 20 venues in the Twin Cities, and overseas.
“The show has become a mainstay of the Liberation Festival in Pilsen, Czech Republic,” Dewane said. “The festival draws tens of thousands of people from all over Europe to celebrate the U.S. Army’s liberation of the city of Pilsen.
“Independence Day in the Czech Republic is May 8, the day WWII ended. My grandfather was the person who announced their freedom that day in Czech and over a speaker system in the main square.”
Dewane’s Czech ancestors were illegal immigrants who did not speak English for their first 50 years in America. Konop did not learn English until he was sent to a one-room schoolhouse at age 6.
Because he spoke Czech, Army Lt. Col. Konop was assigned as a “Czech specialist” when the Army entered the country in May 1945. Because he brought news to villages that soldiers were coming to free them, the people declared him “Liberator.”
Konop found people who shared his name, discovered his heritage and made friends, although once he returned to the Midwest he stopped talking about those war experiences. He bought a cottage, planted a garden and became a mushroom picker.
Twenty years after his death the war diaries surfaced, and Dewane became determined to tell his grandfather’s story. He traveled to the Czech Republic to do research and discovered a book with a picture of an American soldier on the shoulders of Czech people. It was his grandfather.
For the Red Wing presentation, Dewane said, “I hope to spend time talking about the immigrant experience, an important current issue.” Typically, he invites people at the show to share their own stories.
The Minnesota Veterans Art Experience continues through the month of May. An exhibit of artwork by veterans and story-telling images is on display at the Depot Gallery, and a Veterans Art Retreat is planned May 19-24 at Villa Maria.
For more information about veterans activities, go online to www.redwingartsassociation.org or call 651-388-7569. For more about “The Accidental Hero” or tickets, contact the Sheldon Theatre.