Manella, Joseph R.

Joseph R. Manella (1918), Lieutenant US Air Force (private collection)

Joseph Richard (Joe) Manella was born 17 August 1918 in Milford, Massachusetts (USA). In his youth he worked as a milkman in Milford, later he became a machinist. Only one day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, Joe enlisted and joined the Army Air Corpse. After a few months of training he became a bombardier in the 14th Air Force. He was assigned to China and flew more than a dozen missions in a B-29. In September 1943 his plane was shot down over Vietnam. While hanging from a malfunctioning parachute and facing death, Joe felt that his time hadn’t come yet and that there was a holy task waiting for him back home. Joe landed in a rice paddy, was taken care of by French missionaries, handed over to Indian soldiers and then captured by the Japanese, who wanted to send him to Japan for a death penalty. However, they accidentally placed him on the wrong ship after which he ended up in Changi. The Japanese treated him especially cruel, since they wanted information from him on the Norden Bombsight. But he refused to speak, making his treatment even worse. He almost died of sickness several times.

In his notebook, Henk Brouwer wrote 'Manilla' in stead of 'Manella'
In his notebook, Henk Brouwer wrote ‘Manilla’ in stead of ‘Manella’.

When he came home after the war, Joe Manella started working as a teacher in Milford, later he became a principal. With his wife Anne he raised five kids. He stayed on in the Air Force reserves, serving on rescue missions in Brazil and Chile. In the early 1980s, Joe remembered the holy task that was given him the day that he was shot down: there was still something to do for him “back home”. Therefore Joe retired from school in 1982, became ordained and served as deacon in the Worcester Diocese: first as assistant superintendent of the diocesan Catholic schools, later as a deacon at Our Lady of Loreto parish in Worcester, the Catholic Charities at Merilac Manor – a home for unwed mothers – and the Sacred Heart Churches in Milford and Hopedale.

Joe Manella with his portrait drawn by Henk Brouwer. Courtesy Andy Cotter, USA.

Meanwhile, all these years the portrait Henk Brouwer painted of Joe while in Changi hung enlisted on the wall of his living room. When Joe moved to a nursing home his family had it scanned. Joe Manella is now 101 years old and the only ex-POW portrayed by Henk Brouwer, so far discovered, that is still alive. Sadly, his mental state is not coherent enough to reproduce memories about Henk Brouwer or about the painting of the portrait.