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CAMP 59: A view of Camp 59 in 1941, in a photo taken by the International Committee of the Red Cross during an inspection. (Photo courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross)




Army careers are contagious, and Kelly Tisch’s inspiration for service was her grandfather, a WWII POW and then escapee, who was proud to serve even though his post-discharge struggles endured for half a century.


by Cheryl Marino

In 1943, after being taken as a prisoner of war (POW) by the Italian Fascist regime, American infantryman Joseph Mandese escaped into the countryside. He then learned the Army had declared him dead, so as a fugitive on foreign soil, he wasn’t in the best shape, but he was alive.

Just two years prior, the then-22-year-old private could never have imagined the turn of events that would unfold when he was drafted and deployed to North Africa to fight for the American cause in World War II. He had expected to serve in combat, but instead, found himself entangled in a very different kind of battle when he was captured in Tunisia by a German tank division, and held as a prisoner of war at Camp 59 in Servigliano, Italy, for nearly a year. He managed to escape with four other POWs, taking refuge with a family of Italian sharecroppers for another year, before being repatriated. If not for his steadfast will to survive, his granddaughter Kelly Tisch would never have been born. It was Mandese’s loyalty, dedication and pride in serving his country that inspired her to want to serve too, as an Army civilian.

“My grandfather and other brave Soldiers like him are the reason I can enjoy my freedoms,” said Tisch, adding that Mandese—whom she called “Poppy”—passed away in 2016. He could have done anything he wanted for a career after returning to the U.S. and being discharged from active duty. Instead, he opted to take a couple of months off before returning to work for the Army as a civilian—processing film for the Army Pictorial Center in Queens, New York, where he worked for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1970. After everything he endured as a Soldier and POW, to want to continue to serve the Army was astonishing, and also inspiring, Tisch said. “Most importantly, the will he had to survive taught us to value life and to cherish every day,” she said.

FAMILY MATTERS: Tisch and her grandfather in April 2002 at her home in Toms River, New Jersey. Mandese’s loyalty and dedication to the Army inspired her to become an Army civilian. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Tisch)


Tisch joined the Army 13 years ago as deputy product manager supporting the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications ‒ Tactical (PEO C3T). She is currently on a developmental assignment as deputy director for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology’s (ASA(ALT)) Secretary of the Army for Acquisition Logistics . As deputy director, Tisch supports two portfolios that provide critical support to Soldiers—the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management (DASM) Office in a hardware directorate for the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S), and the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI).

“One of the things I like most about working at ASA(ALT) is that there is a very inclusive atmosphere, [at meetings] the focus isn’t always on the most senior leader or the main briefer, everyone in the room is acknowledged and appreciated.” That’s something that has always been important to her and her grandfather. Both Lt. Gen. Robert Marion, the military deputy, and Maj. Gen. Robert Collins include everyone in the conversation, she said. “As I learned in the [DAU] Senior Service College Fellowship, these two senior leaders have mastered creating psychological safety in the organization. And this is the type of environment that breeds creativity and learning. I want to be able to create a safe and open environment like they do as I move forward.”

Tisch said there is no “dream job” that she’s aspiring to. “My grandfather [and his sacrifice] is a reminder that there is nothing more important than keeping our Soldiers equipped and safe,” she said. “Professionally, I want to continue to learn from others and be a change agent in any way I can.”

BAND OF BROTHERS: Joseph Mandese and the four fellow escapees he called his "brothers." At rear, left to right, are Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli and Mandese. In front, left to right, are Tony Spicola and Phil Vacca. (Photo courtesy of

BAND OF BROTHERS: Joseph Mandese and the four fellow escapees he called his “brothers.” At rear, left to right, are Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli and Mandese. In front, left to right, are Tony Spicola and Phil Vacca. (Photo courtesy of


Mandese’s sacrifice was not only significant, but long lasting. During his time as a POW where he faced starvation, dysentery, lice and mental torment behind 15- to 20-foot-high prison walls, Tisch said he had given up hope of ever being released or of surviving the ordeal. Once he returned home, his physical scars had healed but the agonizing mental effects went far deeper. Mandese was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suffered from flashback episodes that were difficult for Tisch to understand as a child.

“When I was about 8 years old, I remember being in his backyard with my middle-school-aged cousin, who was writing an article about him for school. He had a flashback and started screaming, and I remember crying and running inside. I can still see the look of him, it was like he wasn’t there anymore. That was his first flashback I remember, and I would witness many more.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs (and its predecessor, the Veterans Administration) had provided him with medication, individual and group therapy, but he was hesitant to talk openly about his ordeal and didn’t see much value in group therapy, Tisch said. He also believed the medication side effects would have prevented him from working, so instead, he delayed treatment until after retirement. For years, Mandese powered through what he referred to as his “nervous disability,” when he was suddenly overcome by traumatic memory flashes of the cold, bedbug-infested prison camp where he always wore the same clothes, slept on a straw mattress and relied on Red Cross food parcels as his only sustenance—typically torn open by prison guards and left outside for the rats to feast on before the prisoners.

Throughout her childhood, Tisch vividly remembers him screaming out in fear during flashbacks when he relived each horrific moment as a POW. “It was a loud scream followed by a long stretch of silence as he returned to that hell. As a kid, I was just scared and cried every time. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to understand the magnitude of the sacrifice my grandfather and other veterans have made and continue to make,” Tisch said. “I’m glad we’re learning more about mental health and seeing a shift for our Soldiers and society at large.”

LONG WAR AHEAD: Prisoners of war at Camp 59 in 1941, in a photo taken by the International Committee of the Red Cross during an inspection. (Photo courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross)


After 665 days of captivity, escape and evasion, Mandese returned home in 1944 and read an account of his own death in the local newspaper. While he had been gone, the Army notified his parents that he was killed in the Philippines. So his first order of business was to personally inform loved ones that he was, in fact, alive.

Mandese had earned the Bronze Star for bravery. However, because of an administrative oversight, he did not receive it until 54 years after his ordeal. He (and his family) tried in vain to acquire the well-deserved medal, but they were turned away time and time again.

“For reasons unknown, he did not receive the medal directly after,” said Tisch. Then, there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, where the military records needed to verify Mandese’s service had been stored, further delaying his acknowledgement. “At different times in his life, he tried to pursue it and hit roadblocks,” she said. It wasn’t until Robert Cannon, Tisch’s father, contacted his congressman, who referred the matter to Rep. Steve Rothman, that finally, Mandese received his Bronze Star in 1998, at age 79.

“Every holiday, he would dress in his suit and tie all the way through his 90s. He would always wear his American flag and often would wear his Bronze Star, too,” Tisch said. Despite it all, never at any time did her grandfather regret serving. “He was never resentful toward the Army, he was only ever free. [Five years before he died] he said, ‘I helped my country to be free and helped the bravest of men.’ ” That meant everything to him.


It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.

If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.

  • Avoidance is a common reaction to trauma. When it is extreme, or when it’s the main way you cope, it can interfere with your emotional recovery and healing.
  • Trauma reminders: Anniversaries—On the anniversary of a traumatic event, some survivors have an increase in distress. Reactions can range from feeling mildly upset for a couple of days to more severe mental health or medical symptoms.
  • Trauma reminders: Triggers—People respond to traumatic events with feelings of concern, anger, fear or helplessness. Those who have experienced trauma, loss or hardship in the past may be more likely than others to be affected by new, potentially traumatic events.
  • Aging veterans and post-traumatic stress symptomsFor many veterans, memories of their wartime experiences can still be upsetting long after they served in combat.
  • History of PTSD in veterans: Civil War to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)PTSD became a diagnosis with influence from a number of social movements. Research about veterans returning from combat was a critical piece to the creation of the diagnosis, so the history of what is now known as PTSD often references combat history.

Experiencing symptoms of PTSD? To take an assessment, go to:

Treatment for PTSD works. To find a therapist, counselor or other mental health provider who can help with your recovery, go to:

Veterans have unique options for PTSD treatment and other mental health needs. To learn about treatment programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Vet Centers and VA benefits and claims, go to:

If you are in crisis, there are options. Go to:

  • Call 911 if you need police, fire or emergency medical assistance.
  • Call 988 if you need to speak to a trained crisis counselor who can help with mental health-related distress. You can also text 988 or chat online with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call if you are concerned about someone else.
  • If you are a veteran or are concerned about one, call 988, then press “1” to speak with a responder qualified to support veterans. You can also text 838255 or chat online with the Veterans Crisis Line.
  • Go to the nearest emergency room for immediate medical attention.

—U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


In 2014, some 70 years after her grandfather’s escape from Camp 59, Tisch said her aunt and uncle, Rose Ann and Joseph Sverapa, went to both the prison camp and the farm in Servigliano where Mandese spent a year hiding out. The farm owner’s children, Enrico and Rosa Cardinali, remembered Mandese and acknowledged he was chosen for safe haven (above the other escaped prisoners) because he spoke their language and had volunteered to work on their farm. They shared stories from the time Mandese stayed with them and said he was a hard worker and “they had chosen wisely.”

Some of the guardhouses still remained at the prison camp, but none of the buildings that housed the prisoners themselves. A museum honoring all the former prisoners was established on the grounds where schoolchildren could visit and pay their respects. The mayor at that time, Valeriano Ghezzi, presented Tisch’s aunt with a certificate to honor Mandese for his efforts in the war, stating that he and the other Soldiers helped their cause and that they were happy to help them. “Poppy had explained that they [the family] put themselves in grave danger, since the Nazis were dropping leaflets from planes saying that they were to kill anyone harboring a prisoner,” Tisch said. “He was concerned the Italian family could be in danger if they caught him staying there.”

As Mandese’s predicament had grown more distressing, an unexpected turn of events enabled his return to the U.S. After the D-Day Normandy invasion in June 1944, an emaciated Mandese and the same four Soldiers he escaped the camp with, believed the coast was clear and emerged from hiding, fleeing the Italian countryside. They met up with the U.S. Army Air Force on July 12, in Foggia, Italy, where Mandese was hospitalized, then released and sent home on Oct. 31, 1944.

IT’S AN HONOR: The Bronze Star Medal was issued to Mandese on July 15, 1997, then presented to him at a ceremony on Feb. 6, 1998. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Tisch)


Tisch’s military ties extend beyond her grandfather’s service. Mandese’s four brothers also served in the Army during World War II. Her father, Robert H. Cannon, was a U.S. Marine Corps corporal during the Vietnam War, and her husband, Robert Tisch, was as an active-duty Soldier for five years before he became a civilian and, in 2021, assumed the role as product manager for network modernization at the Project Manager for Tactical Network office under PEO C3T. In addition to full-time jobs, the Tisches have five children, and Kelly is pursuing her master’s degree in global leadership and management from Lawrence Technological University. With both she and her husband working full time, courses to complete and children to care for, life is hectic. But she still finds time to inspire her children with stories about their great-grandfather, in the same way that she had been inspired.

“I tell my youngest children about how brave my grandfather was, but I’ve shared more of the details of his POW story with my older boys,” she said. “It has really helped to put the value of life into perspective. My boys are 18 now and I have taught them the importance of our Soldiers and their mission to protect us.”

AMERICAN PRIDE: Soldiers raise the American flag. Though he suffered for decades, former POW Joseph Mandese was proud of his service during World War II. (Photo by Getty Images)


“My grandfather was incredibly proud when he heard I was supporting the Army,” Tisch said. “The family I have, and the simplicity of [feeling safe], being able to go for a run, have been safeguarded by those who gave their lives and those like my grandfather who have fought bravely.”

Tisch said both of her roles—as a granddaughter and as an Army civilian—have broadened her knowledge of how the Army supports Soldiers. “I have thought often about the modernized capabilities we give to our Soldiers, for example, communication capabilities to be able to see ourselves and the enemy. I can’t help but think of my grandfather and how he probably wouldn’t believe the capabilities we have now,” she said. “I feel especially proud to currently support signature modernization efforts that will keep our Soldiers and country safe.” Just as her grandfather had.



For more information about PTSD and how to find help, go to

CHERYL MARINO provides contract support to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as a writer and editor for Network Runners Inc. and Army AL&T magazine. She holds a B.A. in communications from Seton Hall University and has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience in both the government and commercial sectors. In addition to corporate communications, she is a feature writer and photojournalist for a biannual New Jersey travel magazine.


Read the full article in the Spring 2023 issue of Army AL&T magazine. 
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