Rita Cosby tells of her father’s past


Emmy Award-winning correspondent Rita Cosby spoke Monday in Franklin Hall about her new book, “Quiet Hero: Secrets from My Father’s Past.” The book is a tribute to her father, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war. Cosby did not know about her father’s background until later in her life when she finally asked about his scars. Photo by Philip Botta.

Taylor Titus

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Rita Cosby told the story of her father’s life Monday evening in Franklin Hall.

“I’ve done many stories in my life, but this was my favorite,” said Cosby, an Emmy Award-winning TV host and New York Times best-selling author.

The story she shared was based on her latest book, “Quiet Hero: Secrets From my Father’s Past,” which chronicles her father’s experiences in Poland and Germany during World War II.

Cosby started her address with a background story of her life. She grew up in Greenwich, Connect. Cosby’s father left the family when she was a teenager, leaving her mother to act as her mom and her dad. Her mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.

While going through her mother’s things, Cosby found some special items in a suitcase, like a rusty prisoner of war tag. She realized these items belonged to her dad.

“I swallowed my pride and called my dad,” Cosby said.

She uncovered the incredible story of his life.

“I knew there was something different about my dad just by looking at him,” Cosby said.

Cosby’s father lived in Poland during the time of the Nazi invasion. He tried to flee the country but couldn’t because of the Nazis on one side and Russians on the other. He turned down leaving the country to go to America at age 15. According to Cosby, her father said, “I would rather die with friends than live with strangers.” He joined the Polish resistance fighters and left the city of Warsaw through the sewer system.

“Clearly he went through something extraordinary,” Cosby said.

In October 1944, her father was taken to a POW camp in Germany. He spent six months at the camp with 20,000 inmates. He paid off a Polish calculus professor to teach him equations to keep his mind stimulated. Cosby’s father bribed the doctors with cigarettes for glucose shots in return.

“My father is the only one who can say cigarettes saved his life,” Cosby said during the lecture.

Her father eventually escaped the camp. He was 18 years old, 6 feet tall and 90 pounds. He and a group of comrades slept during the day and ran at night towards the west because, Cosby said, they knew that’s where the Americans were.

After walking 50 miles, Cosby’s father and his friends saw something fall from a plane above them. They thought it was a grenade and dove for the ditches. Cosby said her favorite part of the story to tell is when her father realized it wasn’t a grenade; it was a chocolate bar.

The bar had a message to them stating they had 15 more miles to walk, and then they were free.

“It’s an amazing story,” said Jeff Fruit, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It was particularly touching for me because my father was in World War II. I thought it was a wonderful presentation.”

Cosby’s father came to America and changed his name to Richard Cosby. He kept his secret for 65 years. After he told her about his life, he and Cosby went to Warsaw where he was welcomed as a hero. They toured Warsaw and went to the different places he went to while he lived there, like the exact manhole he traveled through to escape.

“I really liked the story,” said Haley Mueller, freshman pre-fashion design major. “It made me wonder about my heritage.”

The Ohio Chapter of the Kosciuszko Foundation, a center for Polish culture, and Friends of Poland, a student group, sponsored Cosby’s visit. The Office of International Affairs and College of Communication and Information sponsored her address.

She currently works as a special correspondent for the CBS syndicated newsmagazine “Inside Edition” and has met many influential people, such as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

“Being able to educate other people is the greatest gift,” Cosby said in an interview. “That’s been such a great honor to me.”

Contact Taylor Titus at [email protected].