Spirit Airlines gives World War II vet an honor guard send-off
By JEFF HIMLER | Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa. (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 9, 2017
Veteran “Mitch” Chockla is one of the Greatest Generation that pulled the United States and its allies through World War II, and his achievements on the battlefields of Europe are receiving added attention as he approaches a century of experience.
“It's overwhelming. I can't believe it's happening,” Chockla said of recent honors, including having the street where he lives in South Miami, Fla., named Mitchel Chockla Court this past spring.
The accolades continued Tuesday as he and his daughter, Barbara Woodward, were sent off by an honor guard — including officers with the Broward Sheriff's Office — as they boarded a Spirit Airlines flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity for a 10-day visit and family reunion in his hometown.
Chockla, who will celebrate his 97th birthday Thursday, served under Gen. George S. Patton in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, in roles including an advance scout and assistant squad leader. Chockla saw action in campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France that earned him multiple military awards, including two Bronze Stars and six Battle Stars.
More than seven decades later, he still feels the effects of the severe wounds that also earned him a Purple Heart during an engagement with the enemy on Nov. 22, 1944, near the border between France and Germany.
“It's not the wounds as much as the memories,” he said. “You never can brush the memories away.”
“Day in and day out, we were fighting,” he said of his unit's struggle to gain ground against German troops.
Shrapnel ripped through Chockla's right elbow and his left hand, but pieces that lodged in the skin below his right breast caused him the most immediate concern. “I could feel the blood running down,” he recalled.
His previous recovery from a bout of malaria in Sicily was brief compared with the months of care and rehabilitation he underwent in hospitals in France, England, Scotland and stateside in Richmond, Va., before his discharge as a sergeant near the war's end.
Chockla was one of six brothers who all served in and survived the war.
In his civilian career, Chockla began working for the now-defunct Westinghouse plant in Derry, a job he returned to after the war. He soon got a job as a letter carrier with the Postal Service and, after delivering mail in the winter weather, welcomed a transfer to Florida in 1950. He retired in 1980 but has remained involved with his community and his generation's legacy, meeting with a dwindling group of fellow World War II veterans in Florida.
“There were 30 to 35 of us,” he said. “Now we're down to about three or four.”
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