Why our hearts are in the Czech Republic today

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Today in a small Wisconsin city, the United States and Czech flags fly side by side; it’s Liberation Day in Domazlice.

Seventy-five years ago, an advance unit from Gen. Patton’s Third Army rolled into the town, the German occupiers fleeing before it or taken prisoner.

Lt. Col. Matt Konop of Two Rivers led that advance party and liberated his ancestral hometown from Nazi occupation.

The townspeople proclaimed, “We are liberated by one of our own!”

Three days preceding, the officer and his driver made their way into Klenci (the hometown of Konop’s grandmother). He soon encountered a local man standing guard in front of a building.

“I pursued to question him in detail as to the enemy situation, the local political situation, and anything else he might be able to tell me,” writes Konop in his personal journal. “With my long list of questions in the Czech language I found him at a loss for words to answer; he just stood there with his mouth open in surprise that I talked his language. He did not answer but asked, ‘Rosumite Cesky?’ I said, ‘I do as I am 100% Czech.’

“I asked him what he was guarding and he told me that there was a hurried meeting of local Czech reliable people who were discussing the present military and political situation since they heard the Americans were nearby…I asked to be taken in the building and so he took me in while my driver sat in my jeep.

“He opened the door for me and I looked into a large hall with about a dozen or so huddled in the front end near a desk. They looked at me as I walked toward them and speechless, perhaps not knowing what had happened. I came near the desk and in their language greeted them, told them I was an American Lt. Colonel, that I was of Czech background and spoke their language and that my division will be coming to their city in pursuit of any enemy that might be in the area and LIBERATE their country.”

On May 4, Konop drove into Domazlice.

“On my arrival I parked my jeep in front of a line of store buildings in the heart of the city. As I got out of my jeep I glanced at the signs on the buildings and, to my surprise, I saw a sign HRUSKA! My grandmother’s name was HRUSKA and now I realized I was catching up with the past …

“I was surprised to see the many people lining the streets and still arriving carrying home-made Czech flags and waving them. Soon I heard the music of their national anthem, KDE DOMOV MUJ, which I recognized as I heard that melody many times before (in his Czech enclave in Wisconsin)…

“I was being followed by a big group of people and the only reason I surmised was that I was a curiosity but I found out later that it was more than that. Somehow my name, my ability to speak Czech, and my Czech ancestry was made know to them. I suspect that the ‘grapevine’ means of communication travelled ahead of me and I again was met with hugs and kisses, this time by young girls who left their imprint of lipstick on my cheek. Some brought flowers and put them on my jeep, the driver and I were given ‘home made’ Czech flags and just mauled by the joyous Czechs.

“A man and his wife finally got to me and the man told the group nearby that I was a Czech, that my grandparents came from that area, and that I was their ‘liberator!’ More embarrassment for me, but my driv(er) was enjoying this to the limit. I was put on the shoulders of a group who carried me through the street and I could see people taking pictures…People tried to tear something from my uniform for souvenirs and I had to plead that they leave me dressed as I was.”

The next day, the American troops were raucously welcomed into Domazlice and nearby towns as the six-year Nazi reign of terror was ended.

The annual May 5 Liberation Day celebrates the event. Traditionally, it’s a joyous and lively gathering where townspeople drive World War II vehicles and dress in period Army uniforms. Veterans make appearances, speeches and cultural programs are proffered. 2020 is, of course, different. Flowers and wreaths are reverently being placed at plaques, including the one which honors Konop, and other hallowed places. It’s a quiet observation this year save the sweet tolling of the Domažlického church bells.


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