Emmy-winning television correspondent Rita Cosby never knew about her father's experiences in World War II until 2 years ago, when she discovered a battered leather case containing his POW tag. Finally they began to talk, and the result was Quiet Hero: Secrets From My Father’s Past, the book Rita wrote about her father that was published earlier this year. For Veteran's Day we asked Rita to share some of what she learned.
As we honor and celebrate veterans this week, I am honored to celebrate the father I never really knew until recently when we began an incredible journey of discovery together.
Although as a journalist I have interviewed many difficult and renowned people, getting my own father to finally talk about his wartime experience was my toughest interview yet, and the most important story of my life. My father had a secret past, and like many of the Greatest Generation, he was “simply doing the right thing.” But the pain of war ran deep, and for my father, so buried was the trauma of war that he left his homeland of Poland, came to America and changed his name from Ryszard Kossobudzki to Richard Cosby, and decided to lock his harrowing teenage years up in a memory vault never to be opened again…especially with his own family.
I always wondered about the visible scars etched across my father’s body. When I was 8 years old on a camping trip with my family, I remember asking my mother about the scars, wondering like a curious child, if my father had gotten into a fight. Now I have learned that he was fighting for his life when he got each of those scars, and that in addition to the ones obviously strewn across his body, there were many more unseen scars that tore my father emotionally and left him distant and mentally removed from his own family, his own daughter.
When I questioned my mother about his scars, she pointedly replied, “Your father went through tough times growing up. We don’t talk about it.” The door was closed. It was clear it was a topic that was off limits. I wonder if I became a journalist, known for grilling others with questions, because I was not able to ask them in my own home…until now.
Everything changed after my mother died when I discovered an old suitcase in a storage locker, which essentially contained my father’s past. There was a rusty POW tag emblazoned with a prisoner number and Stalag 4b, a bloody and worn Polish Resistance armband and a card with someone’s secret codenames. My father had left my mom and basically the family when I was a teenager, yet when I saw these powerful pieces of history and heroism I knew it was time to learn who my father really was, and I nervously called him.
The next few months were spent drawing him out and discovering a story of a young man who grew up quickly fighting for his country against the Nazis, covertly joining the Resistance, escaping through the Warsaw sewers in sheer darkness and terror, and ultimately being seriously wounded and thrown into a massive POW camp about an hour from Dresden.
This Veteran’s Day I am deeply grateful to the U.S. military. After escaping from the POW camp, weighing only 90 pounds and 6 feet tall, my dad was saved by the U.S. military. My new book, Quiet Hero: Secrets From My Father’s Past, is a reminder of the cost of freedom and a tribute to those who fight on the front lines to defend it. It is also a reminder that no matter how hard it is to draw these stories out from truly humble men and women, it is important we do it now before it’s too late. More than 1,000 WWII veterans are dying every day, and we must capture these stories for history.
It has been the greatest assignment of my career and I am truly thankful to now have an extraordinary father in my life who will never forget the young American GIs who hugged him and told him he was finally free.
Click here for more information about Quiet Hero. Below, see Rita talk about her father and how much her discovery means to her.