Profiles in Sacrifice: SSgt. Max Chotin

SSgt. Max Chotin, who served with the U.S. Army during World War II, spent most of his active duty time stateside, not overseas. Having graduated from St. John’s University in Brooklyn, New York, Max became a certified public accountant after graduation and worked as an auditor. His expertise before the war led him to a position as a chief clerk in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Inducted into the military in January 1942, Max married the following year, and became a dad by late 1944. His wife, Sylvia, lived with him in off-base housing in Louisville, a rare occurrence for such a young, married couple during the war. But as 1944 waned on, and troops became depleted overseas, Max anticipated he’d soon be crossing the Atlantic.

About two months before his wife gave birth, he sent her to New York to live with family. Unsure of when he might be deployed, he didn’t want her to be alone with their young baby. Even though Max remained in the states when his son Arthur arrived, he didn’t receive leave permission to visit his wife and new son until the baby was six weeks old. The family spent 10 days together.

When not together, Max regularly wrote to his wife. In one letter he lamented his role in the war. “What am I going to tell Arthur when he grows up, that I won the war by pushing pencils?”

By February of 1945, due to high casualty rates during the Battle of the Bulge, Max’s unit was shipped overseas to Le Havre, France as a replacement unit when his son was just 10 weeks old. While there, he served as the chief clerk for an armored unit at Camp Homerun.

A few months passed, and the war in Europe ended in May 1945, and Max had made it through the war unscathed. But even with an official end to the conflict in Europe, there were tens of thousands of Americans on the continent for months to come, serving as part of Occupation Duty. For another six months, Max remained overseas working as a chief clerk. But as 1945 drew to a close he became anxious to return home for his son’s first birthday.

At that time American forces earned points based on a variety of factors, such as the length of their time in the service, and the campaigns in which they fought. The number of points determined who would be sent home first. In late October 1945, Max worked diligently trying to confirm his point status. It involved calling different Army offices in Le Havre and Brussels, and speaking to the clerks who processed this paperwork and made the determinations.

After some back and forth, Max finally received a determination—if  he could gather the paperwork and bring it to Belgium, they could start processing the papers immediately. That very night, in a letter that Max sent to his wife, he wrote: “I’m going to stay up all night and do this so that I can maybe get home in time for Christmas or Arthur’s birthday.”

That next day on November 3, 1945, with paperwork in hand, Max and a colleague got into a jeep to make the drive. Somewhere in Belgium their jeep was hit by a British truck. Max was thrown out of the jeep and suffered massive cerebral hemorrhaging, dying immediately.

“Just because there was VE day, just because there was VJ day, doesn’t mean that soldiers didn’t die,” said Arthur, nearly 70 years after his dad’s death. “I’ve learned that there are many deaths that don’t happen on the battlefield. There are car accidents. There’s illness. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

As was the standard at the time, Max was buried in a temporary, U.S. military cemetery overseas and, several years later, his wife was given the option of whether she wanted him reinterred in the United States. “She decided that he had been buried once. It would be so emotional for her to go through a second burial, that she didn’t know if she could stand it,” said Arthur. “So she thought that he should stay where he was.”

While Arthur has visited his father’s resting place at Netherlands American Cemetery a few times, his mother chose never to visit the cemetery. “She never said this to me, but I truly believe that in the bottom of her being she felt someday the doorbell would ring and it would all be a horrible mistake,” said Arthur. “And if she saw the grave that would be the end of that dream, that would be the end of that hope.”

She never remarried, and Arthur grew up the only child of a single mother. “I think she felt that marrying someone else would be disloyal to my father,” said Arthur. “He had been cheated out of a life that he hoped to have with her and with me.  And if she remarried, in some way, she felt that would diminish his sacrifice.” 

Arthur knows with confidence that his father’s sacrifice will never be forgotten in the Netherlands. After multiple visits and after connecting with the Dutch family that has adopted his father’s gravesite, he is awestruck at the reverence and respect shown by the Dutch.

“I think they have an awareness that the soldiers who are buried there were in large part responsible for the fact that their nation exists today as an independent and free nation,” said Arthur. “It’s not something they want to forget.  It is part of their history as much as it is a part of our history.”

This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Dutch citizens will gather at the cemetery, along with Arthur, his wife, his sons and daughter-in-law, and more than 50 members of AWON, to remember and honor the sacrifices made seven decades ago in the fight to liberate Europe.  “I think the Dutch people should know that we appreciate them taking our family members into their hearts,” said Arthur.

Follow along on their journey Memorial Day weekend via the ABMC website, Facebook, and Instagram as they return to Netherlands American Cemetery.

About ABMC
Established in 1923 by Congress, ABMC is a U.S. government agency charged with commemorating the service, achievements and sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces where they have served overseas since 1917. ABMC administers our nation’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and federal memorials. For more information visit www.abmc.gov, or connect with us on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram.