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Edward Donald "Eddie" Slovik (February 18, 1920 – January 31, 1945), a private in the United States Army during World War II, was the first United States soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War. While 21,049 soldiers were sentenced for desertion during WWII, 49 of them to death, only Slovik's death sentence was carried out. There have been no executions for desertion in the US armed forces since Slovik's.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Slovik was originally classified as 4-F, unfit for duty, because he had been arrested several times. The first time was at the age of 12, when he broke into a foundry together with several friends to steal some brass. From 1932 to 1937, he was caught for several incidents of petty theft, breaking and entering and disturbing the peace. He was sent to jail in October 1937 and got paroled in September 1938. In January of 1939, he was sent to jail again, after drunk driving a stolen car with two friends and crashing it.
He was paroled in April 1942, after which he got a job at Montella Plumbing Co. in Dearborn, where he met his wife Antoinette Wisniewski. On November 7, 1942, they got married and moved in with her parents. Shortly after their first aniversary, in November 1943, Slovik was reclassified to 1-A and drafted by the army. He was sent to Camp Wolters in Texas on January 24, 1944 for basic military training. In August of 1944 his training was finished and he sailed to France, arriving on the 20th of the same month.
In France, Slovik was part of a group of twelve reinforcements assigned to Company G, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. While enroute to the unit, the reinforcements became lost during an artillery attack. Slovik and another private, John Tankey, found a Canadian unit the next morning, which they unofficially remained with for the next six weeks in a rear area. Tankey wrote to the 109th explaining their absence and the two privates reported to their unit on October 7. No charges were filed.
On October 8, Slovik told his company commander, Captain Ralph Grotte, that he was "too scared" to serve in a rifle company and asked to be reassigned to a rear area unit. He also told Grotte he would run away if assigned to a rifle unit and asked if that would be desertion. Grotte told him it would be desertion and refused his request for reassignment. Slovik was assigned to a rifle platoon.
On October 9, Slovik went to an MP and gave him a confession in which he wrote he was going to "run away again" if he was sent into combat. Slovik was brought before Lieutenant Colonel Ross Henbest, who offered Slovik an opportunity to tear up the note and face no further charges. Slovik refused and wrote a further note stating he understood what he was doing and its consequences.
Slovik was taken into custody and confined to the division stockade. The divisional judge advocate, Lt Col Henry Summer, again offered Slovik an opportunity to rejoin his unit and have the charges suspended. He also offered Slovik a transfer to another infantry regiment. Slovik declined these offers and said, "I've made up my mind. I'll take my court martial."
The 28th Division was scheduled to begin an attack on the Hurtgen Forest. The attack was common knowledge in the unit, as was the fact that casualties were expected to be very high. The rates for desertion and other crimes were rising and many men were indicating they preferred to be imprisoned rather than remain in combat.
Slovik was charged with desertion to avoid hazardous duty and was tried on November 11, 1944. The court martial took an hour and forty minutes. The prosecutor, Captain John Green, brought forth the witnesses to whom Slovik had stated his intent to "run away". The defense counsel, Captain Edward Woods, announced that Slovik had elected not to testify. The nine officers of the court found Slovik guilty and sentenced him to death. The sentence was reviewed and approved by the divisional commander, Major General Norman Cota .
On December 9, Slovik wrote a letter to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme allied commander, pleading for clemency, but desertion had become a problem and Eisenhower confirmed the execution order on December 23 in order to deter other potential deserters. Slovik's death by firing squad sentence for desertion under fire was carried out at 10:04 on January 31, 1945, near the village of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines .
He was originally buried in the Oise-Aisne Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois , France, a secret cemetery, along with 94 other American soldiers executed for crimes such as rape and murder and whose headstones bore only numbers and not names, but in 1987, 42 years after Slovik's execution, his remains were returned to Michigan and reburied next to his wife Antoinette (who died in 1979) in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit. Although his wife and others have petitioned seven U.S. Presidents, Slovik has not been pardoned.
The story of his execution was the basis for a 1954 book by William Bradford Huie and a 1974 made-for-television motion picture, both titled The Execution of Private Slovik. Martin Sheen played Slovik in the film.
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