January 31, 1945 The execution of Pvt. Slovik

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by syscom3, Jan 31, 2008.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    The execution of Pvt. Slovik
    On this day, Pvt. Eddie Slovik becomes the first American soldier since the Civil War to be executed for desertion-and the only one who suffered such a fate during World War II.

    Pvt. Eddie Slovik was a draftee. Originally classified 4-F because of a prison record (grand theft auto), he was reclassified 1-A when draft standards were lowered to meet growing personnel needs. In January 1944, he was trained to be a rifleman, which was not to his liking, as he hated guns.

    In August of the same year, Slovik was shipped to France to fight with the 28th Infantry Division, which had already suffered massive casualties in France and Germany. Slovik was a replacement, a class of soldier not particular respected by officers. As he and a companion were on the way to the front lines, they became lost in the chaos of battle and stumbled upon a Canadian unit that took them in.

    Slovik stayed on with the Canadians until October 5, when they turned him and his buddy over to the American military police. They were reunited with the 28th Division, which had been moved to Elsenborn, Belgium. No charges were brought, as replacements getting lost early on in their tours of duty were not unusual. But exactly one day after Slovik returned to his unit, he claimed he was "too scared and too nervous" to be a rifleman, and threatened to run away if forced into combat. His confession was ignored-and Slovik took off. One day later he returned and signed a confession of desertion, claiming he would run away again if forced to fight, and submitted it to an officer of the 28th. The officer advised Slovik to take the confession back, as the consequences were serious. Slovik refused and was confined to the stockade.

    The 28th Division had many cases of soldiers wounding themselves or deserting in the hopes of a prison sentence that might protect them from the perils of combat. A legal officer of the 28th offered Slovik a deal: dive into combat immediately and avoid the court-martial. Slovik refused. He was tried on November 11 for desertion and was convicted in less than two hours. The nine-officer court-martial panel passed a unanimous sentence of execution, "to be shot to death with musketry."

    Slovik's appeal failed. It was held that he "directly challenged the authority" of the United States and that "future discipline depends upon a resolute reply to this challenge." Slovik had to pay for his recalcitrant attitude, and the military made an example of him. One last appeal was made-to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander-but the timing was bad for mercy. The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest was resulting in literally thousands of American casualties, not to mention the second largest surrender of an U.S. Army unit during the war. Eisenhower upheld the death sentence.

    Slovik was shot and killed by a 12-man firing squad in eastern France. None of the rifleman even flinched, firmly believing Slovik had gotten what he deserved
     
  2. ccheese

    ccheese Member In Perpetuity
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    I remember reading about that ! Seems like it was put under wraps for a
    period of time before the news got hold of it.

    Charles
     
  3. ToughOmbre

    ToughOmbre Active Member

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    I remember the 1974 TV Movie "The Execution of Private Slovik". Eddie Slovik was played by Martin Sheen. Talk about type-casting.

    TO
     
  4. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    He sounded like a real moron - Martin Sheen was perfect for the role!
     
  5. ToughOmbre

    ToughOmbre Active Member

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    And I can think of a lot more Hollywood idiots that would also be good in the part of Pvt Slovik.

    Sean Penn comes quickly to mind.

    TO
     
  6. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Saw the movie. Typical BS. While they didn't make him a Saint, he definitely got the Hollywood Glow. Made a big event out of a relatively minor incident. Something like 80,000 US soliders were casualties as a result of the Bulge (which was going on at the time). Slovak was the guy they made an example out of. Other armies shot way more for the same reason (the German Army shot thousands). And the US Army had shot plenty more in previous wars.

    Historical footnote.
     
  7. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    Anyone who tells you they weren't afraid when they went into combat is lying. But as David Hackworth said, "Courage is when you are the only one who knows you are afraid". A lot of facades and bravado show when it comes time, and it's mostly a way of coping with the fear. But running away is cowardice, plain and simple. That's even more true when other people are counting on you to watch their back.

    Hollywood has a habit of sugar-coating things. And they are the masters at make-believe. Too bad they don't get it when it comes to military facts, with a few exceptions. Joe's right, he got what he deserved.
     
  8. starling

    starling Member

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    i read somewhere that gen.norman cota,the hero and deputy c.o of the u.s.29th infantry div on d-day,had something to do with the execution of slovik,later in the war.yours.starling.
     
  9. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    During the Bulge, with green troops previously sent to the "quiet sector" of the Ardennes for seasoning (and battle-weary divisions, like the Big Red One, sent for rest and replacements), a good portion of those troops panicked and ran during the initial phases of the offensive. Eisenhower needed something to get their attention, and get them back in the lines. One 2nd Lt standing at a road junction waving a .45 at hundreds of panicky GI's isn't gonna do much. So he sent in the 101st as (initially) a stop-gap, to hopefully slow the oncoming tide, and turned their seige into an inspirational story (which it rightfully is). On the other end of the spectrum, in order to show what would happen if they kept running, he needed an example. Slovik was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A week earlier, and he would've been in the klink for 20 years, living off the American taxpayer, and this thread would've been about some generic Bob Smith guy. Eisenhower had plenty of malcontent cases to pick from. My guess is that Slovik's appeal just happened to be sitting on the top of the pile on his desk. At the time, tempers were running hot because of the Ardennes offensive, and the fact that due to the Skortzeny rumor, Eisenhower himself was under a virtual house-arrest, which completely pissed him off, so mercy was not really a viable option in his mind. Slovik himself had plenty of other options available to him. There were other, more honorable ways out of combat. He chose to run. I would've pulled the trigger just as happily as the rest of the guys on the squad.

    Evan's got it right. Talk to any Vet who earned a medal, they'll all tell you they didn't deserve it. They'll tell you they were scared, and there were plenty of other guys who were braver or better than they were who didn't get the medal. War is not natural (although, due to human nature, it is inevitable). Everyone wants to crap their pants when the shots start firing. True courage is wanting to run with every fiber of your being, and doing so....in the correct direction.
     
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