Mary Sigillo Barraco, 96, POW whose mission in life was to speak out against the tyranny of war

Mary Sigillo Barraco
Mary Sigillo Barraco

Dame Mary Sigillo Barraco, 96, died peacefully Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, at her home. She was a native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and a resident of Virginia Beach since 1950. She was the daughter of the late Fortunato “Fred” and Leona Colpaert Sigillo McAvoy, and was preceded in death by her loving husband, Joseph John Barraco.

Mary was a graduate of Verhaeren School, Santa Maria College, Renaix, Belgium, National Conservatory of Music and Drama, Renaix, Belgium, college business, English, mathematics, Rapid 7Reading, Norfolk. She, at the age of 7, moved to Belgium with her mother, and at the age of 17, became a freedom fighter and joined the resistance with World War II on the horizon. She attained the rank of captain and was a liaison officer for two Canadian regiments. She aided paratroopers in reaching safety and their units. She helped Jewish people to escape from the Nazis.

She was engaged to another resistance fighter, Arthur Libre, and both were later captured in France and jailed by the Nazis. Arthur was executed in 1943 while Mary remained in prison. Mary was moved to a number of prisons where she experienced torture, beatings, sterilization and confinement. She was most proud of the inscription she wrote on every wall of each prison, “It is only after you have lost your freedom that you appreciate its value.”

She was decorated by Prince Charles of Belgium in 1946 for her service in the war. Mary returned to the United States in 1946 and was protected daily by the FBI after being threatened by the Nazis.

Mary was determined that her mission in life was to speak out about the tyranny of war. She spoke to thousands of schools and college students, numerous military groups, service and community organizations, church groups and political organizations. In 2004, Mary was Knighted in the Order of the Crown by order of King Albert II of Belgium and was awarded the title of Dame. She became involved in politics in Virginia working for the campaigns of Senator A. Joseph Canada, Senator John Warner, Congressman G. William Whitehurst and Congressman Paul Trible.

Mary was a devout Roman Catholic and was a member of Star of the Sea Catholic Church. She is survived by her grandson, Leon I. Smith V of Virginia Beach and several cousins, nephews and nieces.

The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 11, at H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 1 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 12, at Star of the Sea Catholic Church with Father Esteban DeLeon officiating. Entombment will be held in Princess Anne Memorial Park.

Memorial donations may be made to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters or the charity of the donor’s choice.

Share online condolences with the family at H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts.

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