LACEY – Forked River resident Agnes Joan Negra was 102-year-old when she died on September 9, at her home. She led an extraordinary life and her incredible life story was chronicled in the book “Waves of Hope.”
She was married to August Edward Negra of Nutley on September 6, 1941. She was active with her husband for many years in civic and charitable organizations and dedicating themselves to the care of veterans.
The proudest moment of her life was a book written by her son, Ronald Negra. “Waves of Hope” notes her extraordinary effort during World War II contacting American Prisoner of War families notifying them their soldiers were alive and in German prisoner camps.
Last year she was interviewed in an article for The Southern Ocean Times where she recalled her use of a shortwave radio, listening every evening to Radio Berlin as the German government began announcing the names of American B17 Flyer prisoners of war.
She told The Southern Ocean Times that her efforts had their origins from her childhood. Her father’s boat capsized “and they said my dad was missing and as a kid, I didn’t understand what was happening, but a few weeks later my father came to the door. He had been rescued by some people trawling in the Atlantic off of Boston. Thank God he came back home. I always thought of that.”
Remembering how it felt not to know what became of your loved one led her to take action years later during World War II. “I was listening to the news every night when World War II broke out.”
“I would send postcards to the families. My brother Johnny was missing in action. His plane (a B-17 Gunner) was hit and he was missing and I was hoping to hear his name. The next week I started getting cards from some of the people I wrote to. ‘Thank you for listening and giving us hope that our son is okay.’”
She was contacted by the POW families from all over America expressing their gratitude and giving them hope they would see their loved ones again.
Her efforts only became known a few years ago when her son discovered a box of the POW family letters that was sealed after the war. “Her letter was the first word that their son was okay or their husband or brother,” her son said.
He added, “the letters she received were in her attic for decades. I said to her ‘We never heard about this mom.’ I said start from the beginning because I had no idea what she was talking about. She told us the story and we started reading the letters and they were very emotional. I decided I wanted to document this for her 100th birthday in 2019.”
He added that his mother “never expected to get responses back. They kept coming in and she would read them and feel the emotions that people had expressed. They had anxiety but of all the emotions they had, they had hope.”
Negra’s daughter-in-law Valerie Negra noted that some of the prisoners themselves got to speak during the broadcast providing their name and home town on Radio Berlin.
Negra’s husband joined the Army and became part of the 94th Infantry and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. Ironically, he was missing in action. “Mom continued to listen on the short-wave radio hoping she’d hear my father or my father’s brother-in-law John who was also missing,” Ronald Negra said.
He added that his father had been wounded and left for dead. “The Belgian underground rescued him and hid him. He was pretty badly injured and they got a doctor to look after him in Belgium. They got him back to the American lines and brought him to a newly formed field hospital in France. My father tried to get word to my mother that he was alive.”
That notice reached his mother in a letter from a French nurse which had to be translated. “She brought it to my father’s high school French teacher Helen Gerdnick and that is how she found out that my father was alive,” he added.
In 2021, after “Waves of Hope” was published, she received the prestigious Daughters of the American Revolution “Women in History Award” as the book was nominated and accepted into the DAR National Library in Washington D.C.
She was named in the World War II Memorial in the nation’s capital, as a “Homefront Hero” for her dedication to POW families.
Negra is survived by her daughter Patricia Ann Lerner and her husband Robert, and her son Ronald Edward Negra and his wife Valerie; also, grandchildren Dr. Jason Todd Lerner and his wife Kelli; and Jennifer Lynn Losee and her husband James, as well as great grandchildren Ella Lerner, Chase Lerner, and Gavin Losee. Also, her brother Joseph Verdi, and sisters Pauline Criscuoli and Rose Lombarski as well as her health aide and friend Rosemary Ramos, 29 nieces and nephews and many great nieces and nephews. Her funeral arrangement and burial at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington conducted by Calhoun-Mania Funeral Home was private.
The family will be holding a Memorial Mass for Agnes Joan Negra at 11 a.m. on October 7, to be held at St. Pius the X, 300 Lacey Road.
At her request, contributions can be made in her name to Boys Town at boystown.org or mailed to Boys Town, P.O. Box 8000, Boys Town, NE 68010 or to St. Jude Children’s Hospital at stjude.org.