Agnes Paglia was born in Ripa, Abruzzo District, in central Italy. Her mother, a widow, was unable to care for Agnes and her sister, Maria, so they were sent to an orphanage run by nuns in 1939, when war had just broken out. They stayed in the orphanage throughout the war. Agnes remembers the German soldiers stationed in the area, and one in particular who begged the nuns to hide him and turn him over to the advancing American forces. She also remembered how happy they all were when the Americans came. In 1955, she left Italy on the Andrea Doria and was married two years later.