Living legacy: 100-year-old veteran from Western Pa. makes pilgrimage to Normandy for D-Day anniversary

World War II veteran Andy Negra, a native of Western Pa., sits in his home in Helen, Ga, on April 10, 2024. He shows a photo of himself during his time with the Army's 128th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 6th Armored Division.

World War II veteran Andy Negra, a native of Western Pa., sits in his home in Helen, Ga, on April 10, 2024. He shows a photo of himself during his time with the Army's 128th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 6th Armored Division. (AP Photo/Sharon Johnson)

By Associated Press

June 3, 2024

Andy Negra, who just turned 100, is among a dwindling band of World War II veterans taking part in the official June 6 commemoration of the landings by soldiers from across the United States, Britain, Canada, and other Allied nations at Normandy.

Last Tuesday, Andy Negra turned 100. Less than a week later, the Western Pa. native and World War II veteran joined a group of 60 American veterans of that conflict traveling to France to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Negra is among a dwindling band of WWII veterans who left Atlanta on Sunday on a chartered flight for Deauville, Normandy. The veterans will take part in parades, school visits, and ceremonies — including the official June 6 commemoration of the landings by soldiers from across the United States, Britain, Canada, and other Allied nations on five beaches.

“Well to me, we fought for freedom, and we fought for peace, and we fought for a good life,” Negra, a native of Avella, Washington County, told the Associated Press.

He has made the trip back to France before, but says his return this year for the 80th anniversary of D-Day is special for the people of Europe, and for himself.

“I’m talking about the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium. All of them are coming to this and there’ll be 35 different countries,” he said ahead of his trip. “So it’s going to be a pretty big event. And at the same time, I’m saying to myself, ‘They’re going to celebrate my birthday.’”

Negra, who now lives in Helen, Georgia, considers himself lucky to have survived uninjured. “I saw a lot of bad things. A lot of death,” he said.

But he also recounts meeting his wife at a dance while he was deployed there. “Second song they played was “People Will Say We’re in Love.” And I told her, I said — at that time, I’m 19 — I told her, I said, ‘This is going to be our song for the rest of our lives.’ And I only knew her 10 minutes.”

In 1943, Negra had just finished high school. He was thinking of attending the University of Pittsburgh.

“But Uncle Sam had that finger pointed at me. ‘I need you.’ And, I was drafted,” he recalled.

The third of four children born to immigrants from Austria-Hungary, Negra expressed no qualms about entering the service. “There was a war going on, so I went along with everybody else. I just went into the service with an open mind.”

Now, he proudly lays claim to being part of “The Greatest Generation.”

“Because we saved the world,” he said.

Negra said he was making plans to visit the scene of one of his life’s most harrowing moments. He recalled being on the road with the 6th Armored Division, part of a push to retake the French port city of Brest, when his column was strafed by five German planes. He scrambled out of his half-track and hid behind a well.

“These five airplanes all dove for that well,” Negra recalled. “And I was behind that well. So, when they strafed, fortunately it was a brick one, and solid.”

His plans for his return to France include revisiting the scene.

“They say the well’s not there, but the location is there. So, if possible, we’re going to go see that.”

Keystone senior community editor Patrick Berkery contributed to this story.

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CATEGORIES: LOCAL PEOPLE
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