Eddie Slovik

Edward Donald Slovik (February 18, 1920 – January 31, 1945) was the only US soldier in WW II to be court-martialled and executed for desertion since the Civil War.

On its Person’s of Exceptional Prominence  page, the National Archives have released the military records of numerous well known American veterans. Of the more than one thousand documents relating to the case of Private Eddie Slovic, Medic has chosen to locate a fraction of these items at various points in this article.

In 1944, Eddie Slovik, a petty thief, convicted felon, and ex convict emotionally unfit for military service, was re-classified from 4F to 1A and drafted into the Army.

In August of that year, after completing basic training, Slovic was assigned to Company G of the 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. While en route to the 109th, Slovik and fellow replacement John Tankey took cover during an artillery attack and became separated from their replacement platoon. The next morning, the pair found a Canadian MPs unit and remained with them for six weeks. Tankey wrote to the 109th to explain their absence before he and Slovik reported for duty on October 7, 1944. The U.S. Army’s rapid advance through France that fall had caused many replacement soldiers to have trouble locating their units; no charges were filed against either man.

The following day, Slovik informed Captain Ralph Grotte, the company commander, that he was “too scared” to serve in a rifle company and asked to be sent to the rear. He told Grotte that he would run away if he was assigned to the infantry, and asked if that was considered desertion. Grotte said it would, refused Slovik’s request, and sent him to a rifle platoon.
The next day, October 9, Slovik deserted. John Tankey caught up with him and attempted to persuade him to stay, but Slovik said that his “mind was made up”. He walked several miles to the rear and approached an enlisted cook at a headquarters detachment, presenting him with a note that later sealed his fate.

The cook brought Slovik to an MP, then to his commander, who read the note and urged Slovik to destroy it before he was taken into custody. Slovik refused. He was brought before Lieutenant Colonel Ross Henbest, who again offered him the opportunity to tear up the note, return to his unit, and face no further charges. Slovik again refused.

Henbest instructed Slovik to write another note on the back of the first, stating that he fully understood the legal consequences of deliberately incriminating himself, and that it would be used as evidence against him in a court martial. Slovik was taken into custody and confined to the division stockade, convinced that he would be court-martialed, imprisoned, and dishonorably discharged.

The court martial convened on Veterans Day, November 11, 1944. Since all combat officers from the 28th Infantry Division were on the front lines the court martial was composed of staff officers from other divisions. Slovik was found guilty of desertion and sentenced to death.

Stunned by the verdict, Slovik wrote to the Supreme Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, pleading for clemency. However, desertion had become a systemic problem in France, and the surprise German offensive through the Ardennes began on December 16 with severe U.S. casualties, bypassing and surrounding many units, and straining the morale of the infantry to the greatest extent yet seen during the war.

Eisenhower confirmed the execution order on December 23, noting that it was necessary to discourage further desertions. The sentence came as a shock to Slovik, who had expected the same harsh punishment he had seen meted out to other deserters while he was in the stockade.

On January 31, 1945, near the village of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, the unrepentant Slovik said to the soldiers whose duty it was to prepare him before they led him to the execution site: “They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I’m it because I’m an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that’s what they are shooting me for. They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old.”

As required by military custom, Slovik’s uniform was stripped of all military identifying insignia, buttons or any other accoutrement and a GI blanket was wrapped over his shoulders to protect him against the cold. Next, he was led into the courtyard of a house chosen for the execution. Its high masonry walls would deflect errant bullets and discourage the local French civilians from witnessing the solemn proceedings.

Soldiers stood him against a six inch by six inch post. He was then strapped to the post with web belts, with one wrapped around and under his arms and hung on a spike on the back side of the post to prevent his body from slumping following the volley, and the others securing his knees and ankles. Just before a soldier placed a black hood over his head, the attending chaplain, Father Carl Patrick Cummings, said to Slovik, “Eddie, when you get up there, say a little prayer for me.” Slovik replied with his last words: “Okay, Father. I’ll pray that you don’t follow me too soon.”

Twelve hand-picked soldiers from the 109th Regiment had been detailed for the firing squad. The weapons used were standard issue M1 Garand rifles with one round loaded in eleven rifles and one rifle loaded with a blank. On the command of “Fire,” Slovik was hit by eleven bullets, at least four of them fatal.

An Army physician quickly determined Slovik had not been immediately killed. As the firing squad reloaded to fire another volley, Slovik expired. He was 24 years old.

Slovik was buried in Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in Fère-en-Tardenois, alongside ninety-five American soldiers executed for rape and/or murder. His wife, Antoinette Slovik, petitioned the Army for her husband’s remains and his pension until her death in 1979. She and others petitioned Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter for a pardon, but none were granted.

Slovik’s case was taken up in 1981 by Bernard V. Calka, a Polish-American World War II veteran, who continued to petition the Army to return Slovik’s remains to the United States. In 1987, he persuaded President Ronald Reagan to order their return. In 1987, Calka raised $5,000 to pay for the exhumation of Slovik’s remains in France and their transfer to Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery, where Slovik was reburied next to his wife.

In 1960, during the Cold War, Frank Sinatra announced his plan to produce a movie titled The Execution of Private Slovik, to be written by blacklisted Hollywood 10 screenwriter Albert Maltz. The announcement provoked outrage, and Sinatra was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. As Sinatra was campaigning for John F. Kennedy for President, the Kennedy camp became concerned, and ultimately persuaded Sinatra to cancel the project.

However, Slovik’s execution was the basis for a 1954 book by William Bradford Huie. In 1974, the book was adapted for a TV movie starring Martin Sheen and also called The Execution of Private Slovik.
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source: wikipedia

obituary of Antoinette Slovik