“QUIET HERO: Secrets from My Father’s Past” (Simon & Schuster, May 2010) by three-time Emmy winner and New York Times bestselling author Rita Cosby hits bookstores today. But the book is unlike anything the former Fox News Channel and MSNBC primetime show-host and current special correspondent for CBS’s Inside Edition has ever written or reported.
This book is about Cosby’s father, Ryszard Kossobudzki, a Polish Resistance fighter during World War II, who was badly wounded, captured by the Nazis, held in a POW camp, escaped and ultimately rescued by American military forces after retrieving handwritten directions-to-freedom wrapped in a chocolate bar and dropped to Kossobudzki and his comrades by a U.S. Army Air Forces pilot.
After the war, Kossobudzki (today 84), “met [and married] a nice Danish girl,” he says, left his native Poland for America, anglicized his name to Richard Cosby (as so many immigrants did in those days), and started a family, naming his now-celebrity daughter, Rita, after a cousin Rita who also served in the resistance.
What the elder Cosby did not do is tell his story to his children – the past was simply too dark to dredge up – until now.
His story “opened the floodgates of emotion” between father and daughter, the younger Cosby tells me, but “this book reminds us all of what it really means to be an American, and it is a legacy we all [American, Polish, or a combination of the two] can be proud of,” she says.
Moreover, the elder Cosby will finally receive long-overdue recognition. Last year, Poland’s Pres. Lech Kaczynski (killed just weeks ago in a plane crash) presented a plaque to Cosby commemorating his heroic wartime service. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger calls QUIET HERO, “A beautiful tribute to the strength of the human spirit.” And Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, says, “One of Poland’s great treasures has now been found. Richard Cosby and his Resistance comrades are true heroes in our historic fight for freedom. Without their courage, Solidarity would never have won its final battle.”
We recently sat down with Rita Cosby and discussed with her what she says is the most important story of her life, her father.
W. Thomas Smith Jr.: Growing up, did you know your dad was a hero?
RITA COSBY: No. My father was always a bit of a mysterious man when I was growing up. I remember when I was eight-years-old – and we were on a family camping trip, and my father had returned from running – I remember seeing scars all over his body, and I asked my mother about it. I wondered to myself, “Did Dad get in a fight? Was everybody’s body like this?” My mother quickly shut down any questions about his scars. She basically said, “We don’t talk about it.”
I understood clearly that it was a topic that was off-limits.
Smith: Yes, but what went through your eight-year-old mind?
COSBY: I knew my dad had been through something horrible, and I knew it was something both physically and emotionally traumatizing. It was obvious it was something too painful for him to discuss, especially to a child.
Smith: Did you know it had something to do with war?
COSBY: At that time I did not. But I learned it as I got little older. I remember my mother also telling me, “Your father went through some difficult times growing up.” And I knew he had been in Poland. So I began to piece things together. I thought somebody had beaten him up or that he had been tortured.
Smith: Did this make you afraid of the fact that there was something so terrible in the world that had done this to your father? And that it was so dark, you did not understand it.
COSBY: Yes, it definitely made me scared. It made me wonder what was out there so horrible to leave these emotional and physical marks on him.
Smith: What was the toughest part about writing the book?
COSBY: Seeing my father cry. My father bared his soul in this book and I did too.
Smith: Had you not seen him cry before?
COSBY: The only time was briefly about ten years ago when we talked for a short time about the war. He cried then and told me afterwards he had nightmares, so I did not go back to the topic of his war for many years. But in the writing of this book, I have seen him weep uncontrollably. To see him cry like that – and this from a man who is extremely unemotional who always contained his emotions – and suddenly the floodgates were opened, was very hard for a daughter to experience. To see his release of 65-years of pent-up emotion, struck me so profoundly. We were both there sobbing together, especially when we retraced his final steps in Poland and went to locations where his comrades were killed.
Smith: As I’m sure you’ve discovered in your research, Poland has an extraordinarily rich military tradition. Do you see this book furthering an awareness of that tradition? Beyond that, what is the broader message of this book?
COSBY: The courage of the Polish Resistance was absolutely astounding. Here they were – only 40,000 strong at their zenith – going up against what at-that-time was one of the world’s most powerful war machines, certainly a brutal one. Sometimes the Resistance had just sticks and Molotov cocktails against tanks and artillery and aircraft. So I believe that everyone who reads this book will be awestruck by the sheer bravery and tenacity of these incredible men and women who decided to fight for freedom in their country against all the odds, against the invading Nazis. And they would do it again for their country and their comrades. Their heroism is truly inspiring.
Smith: So do you think there is something unique about Poland in terms of its military tradition that lends itself to the prowess of its soldiers?
COSBY: I think because Poland has struggled to exist for so many centuries, young Poles have basically had to learn to fight for freedom at a very early age. It’s part of the culture and the lifestyle. They know that they have to always be prepared to defend their homeland. And that’s the world my father grew up in. We might say it’s the national state-of-mind in Poland. You have to understand, my father wasn’t called to serve in a war thousands of miles from home. He was fighting in his own backyard as generations of his ancestors had done. When he escaped in the sewers to evade death by the Nazis, the sewer entrance was only about a few hundred yards from his home.
Smith: Beyond Polish military tradition and prowess – both of which are brought out in QUIET HERO – I see it as a superb narrative-documentary of partisan warfare. Beyond that, this is a book for everyone.
COSBY: Absolutely. This book has a universal message, whether you are Polish or American, Christian, Jewish, military or non-military, you are going to love this book I believe. There is a powerful message of fighting for what you believe in, standing on principle, and caring about democracy for all people. I think it’s a great lessen for all, and my father is so proud to be an American. He is so grateful that U.S. forces saved him and – he believes – essentially saved the world in that war. This book reminds us all of what it really means to be an American, and it is a legacy we can all be proud of.
Smith: What about the people of Poland? Will they also see this book, as it is also a tremendous tribute to the Polish people and their history?
COSBY: Yes. And the icing on the cake is that we’ve just inked a deal with a great Polish publishing house, Rafael. So the book – just released here in North America – will also be released by Rafael in Poland in a few months, so we will have English and Polish-language versions of Quiet Hero.
Smith: Where do see you, your dad, and the book going over the next 12 months?
COSBY: We plan to log a lot of miles this year. A nationwide book tour, the groups I’m going to be speaking to, and a return trip to Poland are all going to make things very busy for us for the next 12 months. But this is the most important and personal story I will ever tell, and we’ll be raising money for the USO to help wounded soldiers and their families, so I am so-honored to be able to share this story and help in any way I can. There are a lot of quiet heroes out there, and I hope this book encourages others to share their stories before they leave us.
To order Quiet Hero, click here.