Thanks to Michael Matondi for the articles above.
WWII Journal: Milford veteran survived POW camp, became Deacon
By Brad Petrishen / Daily News Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2014 at 12:02 AM Updated Apr 7, 2014 at 8:47 AM
Joseph Manella spent the mid-1940s as a prisoner of war in Singapore, where he worked like a dog during
the day to earn his handful of rice each night.
On a good day, he’d supplement his diet with something he found by the side of the road while working, or
perhaps with meat from a cat he or comrades managed to catch.
On a bad day, he’d find himself inside a “hospital” inside the prison camp, wracked with malaria and
vomiting in front of guards who waited passively for him to die.
He was one of the lucky ones.
“A lot of the guys didn’t make it,” the Milford native said of the airmen inside the six American planes Manella
that were shot down with on Sept. 15, 1943 over what is now Vietnam.
The Americans had been trying to bomb a Japanese-held cement plant, but Manella believes the Japanese
had some sort of advanced warning.
“They were waiting for us,” said Manella, pointing to his left arm, which was hit during the attack and
rendered useless as the plane was going down.
Thinking quickly, Manella used his good arm to put a parachute on a dazed comrade and pushed him out of
the plane. Then he jumped himself, having trouble getting his own parachute deployed properly because of
“I heard this voice say to me, ’Well Joe, this is the way you wanted it: quick, clean and easy,” the 95-year-old
said, remembering how he spun awkwardly toward the ground as bullets from Japanese Zeroes flew
through the air.
“Yes Lord, but not now,” Manella remembers thinking. “There’s something at home I need to do.“
Manella thanks God to this day he landed safetly in a rice paddy. After being brought to a hospital, Manella
was turned over to a Japanese prison camp.
“I took an oath I would take the secrets to my (grave) if needed,” Manella remembered. “They asked me, ‘Are
you going to stick to that?’ I said, ‘Yes.’“
Manella said he and other prisoners were treated harshly by guards. One day, a guard had to be talked out
of decapitating him with a sword after he stopped working to collect something to eat by the road.
“All they gave us was a handful of rice a day,” said Manella, who was down to 95 pounds by the time he left
Manella and five other Americans lived in a shanty in the camp that was across from the building where food
was cooked. Sometimes stray cats wandered into the camp at night and headed for the kitchen. Manella
and his comrades would try to catch them.
“I took that cat, slammed it against the wood, killed it and skinned it,” Manella said, whipping his hands
through the air.
Manella said in order to store the cats, he came up with an idea to ask the guards if they could dig a hole
under the shanty in case the prison got bombed.
“We didn’t have refrigerators,” Manella said rhetorically, smiling. “So that’s where we put the cats.“
It was a far cry from life in Milford, where, as he’ll proudly tell you, Manella was born and raised.
“I used to peddle milk in Milford,” Manella said, remembering back to the days of his youth.
Manella vividly remembers his mother crying one day and telling him a neighbor’s husband had died.
“I was 7. I went over there and said, ‘I want to learn how to milk cows and help you with the farm,’” Manella
said. “And I did.“
For years, Manella worked side-by-side with the woman’s son, milking cows and making deliveries in a
horse cart throughout town.
Manella was in his early 20s and working as a machinist in Hopedale on Dec. 7, 1941, the day the
Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
The next day, he quit his job and joined the Army Air Corps.
“I had to drop everything,” he said, remembering how angry he was about what happened.
Manella went for training in Alabama, forming an opinion about what he wanted to do pretty early on.
“I decided I wanted to be a bombardier,” Manella said, smiling. “I said, ‘If I’m going be in the Air Force, I want
to do the bombing.’“
Manella recalled fondly his training days with his crew in Texas, including the time they accidentally flew off
course and hit a real target.
“I blew up a gasoline station,” he said laughing. Luckily, it was closed for the night.
When he went overseas, he was assigned to China, and flew more than a dozen missions before he was
He wasn’t liberated until after the Japanese surrendered in 1945. In the two years he was a prisoner,
Manella estimates he was near death with sickness at least six times.
Manella said each time he thought he would die he had a holy vision, and each time he woke up the next
When he got home from the war, he worked for years as a teacher in Milford and later as a principal. He
raised five kids with his wife Anne; the couple met at a Sons of Italy spelling bee.
He also stayed on in the Air Force reserves, serving on rescue missions in Brazil and Chile.
Manella said one day in the early 1980s, he realized what he’d meant when he’d told God he had something
to do “back home” the day he was shot down. He retired from the schools in 1982, became ordained and for
the past three decades has served the Worcester Diocese.
Manella still serves as Deacon at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hopedale, where a stained glass
window he commissioned is adorned with visions he had as a POW. He still lives in Milford near his
childhood home, and keeps a clean house that would make his wife, who died in 1992, proud.
“I’m serving the Lord of God every minute of my life,” said Manella, who thanks God every day for getting him
out of Singapore alive.
“They had nothing to give us, not even aspirin,” Manella said, recalling the paltry building in the camp the
Japanese called a hospital. “They just waited for us to die.“
Brad Petrishen can be reached at 508-490-7463 or email@example.com.
Submitted by Carl Moore, Staff Reporter, Town Crier · April 27, 2010
The numbers came up for Joseph Manella of Milford more than 65 years ago, but he's never forgotten
them: 7, 13, and 8-15.
He was emcee for the Sons of Italy in Milford, dancing at a party in Boston on December 7, 1941 with the
wife of the Massachusetts governor, when Gov. Leverett Saltonstall good-naturedly cut in and asked
Manella why he wasn't in the army. The next day, Manella enlisted in the Army and became an aviation
cadet and eventually a bombardier-navigator in a B-24 flying on raids from a base in China.
On his 13th mission, his plane was shot down, and he recalls helping a member of his crew open his
parachute and then jumped himself, only to realize his rigging wasn't fully fixed. Manella recalls spinning
downward, sometimes with the chute fully opened and at times with it slack. His erratic drop helped him
avoid the shots from the Japanese planes. He landed in a rice paddy near Hanoi in what was then French
Indo-China, now Vietnam.
Captured by the Japanese forces, Manella was told he would be sent to Tokyo where he would die an
honorable soldier's death, but mistakenly he ended up in a prison camp near Saigon, where he would
spend two and a half years as a prisoner of war.
As for the numbers 8-15: one night in camp in Saigon Manella dreamed he was back in Milford at a bar on
Central Street with his older brother. He had sometimes gone to that bar with his brother and he got tips
for his singing. In his dream, his brother gave him $8.15, eight-fifteen---August 15, 1945, the end of the war
Now 91 with his next birthday on August 17, Manella had served with the famed Flying Tigers under
General Claire Chennault. The Flying Tigers were originally the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the
Chinese Air Force, which later were replaced by the U.S. Army 23rd Fighter Group and then absorbed into
the 14th Air Force. Manella served five years in active duty and 30 years in the Air Force Reserve.
While a prisoner of war, Manella was assigned to supervise fellow soldiers who were bringing buckets of
dirt to fill in a mangrove swamp where the Japanese were building an airport. Things got out of control,
and the soldiers dumped the dirt and the buckets, enraging the Japanese overseers, one of whom came
toward Manella as if to kill or wound him. But a British officer intervened, telling the overseer, "These
Americans don't know how to lead me". That broke the tension.
Food was sparse in the camps, often just a bowl of rice. Prisoners scavenged for eggplant which they ate
raw. Not surprisingly, Manella can't and won't eat it anymore. They also supplemented their diet with
recipes for cat meat. Over the course of his imprisonment, his weight dropped from 135 to 95 pounds.
Manella had been a machinist at Draper Corporation in Hopedale, with a deferment, but he forsook that to
On his return to the States from the Army, he studied education and journalism at Boston University and
subsequently got a Masters in education from Boston College. He was in the Milford public school system
for 27 years as a teacher, then a principal and eventually director of elementary education. He also
prepared and directed two National Science Foundation grants in mathematics and ecology, and they
were recognized as exemplary programs.
Manella and his wife Ann, have five children. Ann died 17 years ago; they had been married for 56 years.
Their son, Matthew lives in Mendon. Two of their daughters live in Hopedale, Carol Acebal and Julie
Gunduz. Angela Kantor lives in Pepperell and Josefa Kolodciecgyk in Palm Beach, Florida. Among them,
there are Manella's seven grandchildren.
By far, Manella's longest "enlistment" has been his 32 years as deacon his church, Sacred Heart Church
in Hopedale. His faith has always been close and personal for him.
He recalls feeling he was dying after he was wounded and parachuted to ground, but said there was
something he had to do. During bouts of sickness while a prisoner of war, he had similar visions and
feelings that he had more to do. So for 32 years he has been back in the service of his faith and his
church---the thing he felt he had to do.
Town Crier photo
Click here to see all of the Sacred Heart stained glass windows.