He isn’t known as a dogface soldier boy or mudslinger in South Miami. His shrapnel-shattered right elbow still bares scarred stories from his days as an Army rifleman.
But Mitchel Chockla is much more than a decorated World War II veteran in the “City of Pleasant Living.” He is a local icon, now living on a street named after him: Mitchel Chockla Court.
Chockla, 96, was honored on March 24, at the home he has lived in since 1951. The humble house hosts many accolades from his time serving in the war. Pictures on the wall feature Chockla among six brothers who were drafted and returned from the battle. The Derry, Pennsylvania, native grew up as one of his mother’s 17 children.
The retired Army sergeant earned a Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars, and the French Legion of Honor while serving in North Africa, Italy and France. He returned home after being wounded in 1944 near the border of Germany. Flags flew in his mother’s window, emblazoned with the six stars from her boys. His father died early, which Chockla attributes to the worry he had for his deployed sons. Now Chockla is the last brother alive.
He married his wife, Anne, in 1946. The couple had five children. She died in 1997.
Chockla beams when he looks at the new green street sign baring his name, resting beneath the shadow of a flapping American flag on Southwest 63rd Court.
“I thought of moving a couple of times, but I like the area so well,” he said. “Everything is handy here. We’ve had good neighbors our kids have grown up with. You don’t see any kids out playing, but when my children were growing every family around had children. They have moved away or are deceased and I just decided to stay here.”
South Miami turns 90 in May and lives in Chockla’s DNA. His presence is felt block by block. He served as a local letter carrier for 27 years, stopping at houses and seeing children who are now doctors, lawyers and teachers. His regulars remember him, bringing it up when he is out and about.
“It means everything,” Chockla said. “This is years after I retired. It was always so nice — they always greeted me and I greeted them. It’s a lasting relationship.”
His postal clients ranged from famous to infamous during his years of delivering between Old Cutler Road and 57th Avenue, and down to the bay. He drove a scooter and jeep from 80th Street to Kendall Drive, handing mail to baseball legend Ted Williams, poet Robert Frost and former Vice President Spiro Agnew. He sat down with Frost for sodas, and boxer Rocky Marciano gave him signed autographs.
“I completed the transfer and moved to this house in January of 1951,” Chockla said. “I’ve been here ever since. This was all woods here and there were only three houses. I carried mail in the area and watched them build these houses and I consented to sign a contract for one of them and this was the one I got.”
“The people were all very nice,” Chockla said. “They treated me very well. At Christmas time, I got some pretty nice gifts.”
Chockla says “nothing really exciting” went on in the area, but recalled when helicopters hovered above in 1982 as federal agents arrested former Miami Dolphins player Mercury Morris blocks away. (Morris was eventually convicted of trafficking in cocaine.)
He says South Miami has exploded with growth. The veteran fished the canals and says potato and tomato fields once covered land now ruled by residential residue.
“People who lived here when I first moved here were 90 percent white Americans,” Chockla said. “I’ve seen so many changes.”
Chockla encourages South Miami’s diversity.
“It’s all for the better, I say. My parents were born in Ukraine so I always consider myself in the same line as the Spanish people. They had to enter a new culture, so I’ve seen the problems we had and the same problems we have now.”
“I get along fine with everybody,” said Chockla, who turns 97 in August.