“He who dies honorably lives forever” – Frane Krsto Frankopan, 1669
What is a hero? I often ask myself that, and having 3 kids, I try to cautiously explain to them what a hero is for fear of giving them a skewed perception. My kids (like most others) think of celebrities, sports or music icons and cartoon superhero’s as such. But a hero to me is someone who risks their own life without hesitation to help others and they lie in ones heart and beliefs.
Blago Zadro was born in Donji Mamići -Ledinci (Grude) – a small neigbouring village next to my moms in Hercegovina. At the age of 10, his family moved to Borovo Naselje, Croatia where they settled and began a new life. Blago Zadro finished school there and led a normal life with his wife Katica, and three sons: Josip, Tomislav and Robert. In 1990, Blago Zadro became active in Croatian politics, particularly in the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ – Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica) where he was elected vice president of the municipality of Vukovar. When the war started in 1991, Zadro joined the defense corps with no military background and commanded the 3rd battalion of the 204th Croatian Army Brigade (Vukovarksa Brigada).
Trpinja Road (Trpinjska Cesta) is one of the main roads that leads to Vukovar. Blago Zadro’s unit was assigned to defend the road, which was vital for the protection of Vukover while it was under siege. Because of it’s importance, Trpinja soon became a bloodbath and the war in Croatia was finally getting international media attention.
Back in 1991, there were very little outlets from where Croats abroad could follow the events happening in their homeland. The phone connections were horrible, there was no skype, Croatian satellite or internet, and newspapers were always 2 weeks old. Many families, like mine, obtained radio transmitters and this kept us fairly current with the events. We lived on a street with many other Croatian families, and every night at 6 pm, everyone would gather at one of the houses and listen to the Croatian news. I never found it odd back then, but I do now when I look back at the fact that every family had one of the small radio transmitters and yet every night, they were adamant about listening together. I’m sure they liked to discuss the daily events, but perhaps they felt more comfort and solace, listening to the horrible news together. They were after all, strangers in a strange land, but with very deep connections to eachother. They were Croats, living together in Canada whilst feeling helpless watching the destruction of their beloved country.
I remember October 16, 1991. It was a warm autumn day, post Thanksgiving in Canada. Many of you probably wonder how it is possible to go back and remember a specific day. I had a wonderful childhood, but for many years, my parents were consumed with the war so whenever there was a significant event, it was for the most part etched into my memory that often left me feeling anxious, hopeless, and sad. So now, 20 years later, certain dates trigger certain events and they take me back to when I was this 14 year old kid.
The gathering that evening happened to be at our house. All the parents were sitting on the back patio, and all the kids were playing in the backyard – it quickly became an evening routine when the war first broke out that same summer. The parents were tuned into the staticky radio report and a few minutes later we heard gasping, followed by crying and some yelling. While defending Trpinja Road and the main access to Vukovar – Blago Zadro was killed by Serb militia that morning. He was 47 years old.
Zadro’s body was recovered, but then later went missing until 1998. It was then exhumed along with 940 other bodies in a mass grave in Borovo Naselje. In a sad twist of fate, Zadro’s eldest son, Robert, got killed the following year in Kupres, Hercegovina. How ironic that a father born in Hercegovina was killed defending Croatia, and his son, born in Croatia, was killed defending Hercegovina?!
There is nothing more difficult than finding the words for the truly extraordinary. As I sit here anticipating the 22nd anniversary of Blago Zadro’s death, my thoughts take me back to that warm October day and I am overcome with emotion. My children are too small to understand, but one day, I will explain to them the meaning of a true hero, and they will know who General Blago Zadro was and that he died a hero by defending his beloved Croatia.
Veseli se, tužna mati,
Padoše ti verli sini,
Ko junaci, ko Horvati,
Ljaše kervcu domovini!
Be Joyful, sad mother
Your brave sons have fallen
Like heroes, like Croats
Shedding blood for homeland!
(An excerpt taken from HORVATSKA DOMOVINA)