Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik

Eddie Slovik

Edward Donald Slovik (February 18, 1920 – January 31, 1945) was a private in the United States Army during World War II and the only American soldier to be court-martialled and executed for desertion since the American Civil War.
Although over 21,000 American soldiers were given varying sentences for desertion during World War II, including 49 death sentences, Slovik's was the only death sentence carried out.
During World War II, 1.7 million courts-martial cases were tried, representing one third of all criminal cases tried in the United States during the same period. Most of these cases were minor, as were the sentences.  Some were serious. Nevertheless, a clemency board, appointed by the Secretary of War in the summer of 1945, reviewed all general court-martial cases where the accused was still in confinement.  That Board "remitted or reduced the sentence in 85 percent of the 27,000 serious cases reviewed." The death penalty was rarely imposed, and all of those cases typically were for rapes and murders. Only one executed "had been convicted of a 'purely military offense.'"
The 28th Division was scheduled to begin an attack in the Hurtgen Forest. The coming attack was common knowledge in the unit, and casualty rates were expected to be very high, as the prolonged combat in the area had been unusually grueling. The Germans were determined to hold, and terrain and weather reduced the usual American advantages in armor and air support to almost nothing. A small minority of soldiers (less than 0.5%) indicated they preferred to be imprisoned rather than remain in combat, and the rates of desertion and other crimes had begun to rise.
Slovik was charged with desertion to avoid hazardous duty and tried by court martial on 11 November 1944. Slovik had to be tried by a court martial composed of staff officers from other U.S. Army divisions, because all combat officers from the 28th Infantry Division were fighting on the front lines. The prosecutor, Captain John Green, presented witnesses to whom Slovik had stated his intention 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 division commander, Major General Norman Cota. General Cota’s stated attitude was. "Given the situation as I knew it in November, 1944, I thought it was my duty to this country to approve that sentence. If I hadn’t approved it—if I had let Slovik accomplish his purpose— I don’t know how I could have gone up to the line and looked a good soldier in the face."
On 9 December, Slovik wrote a letter 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 16 December with severe U.S. casualties, pocketing several battalions and straining the morale of the infantry to the greatest extent yet seen during the war.
Eisenhower confirmed the execution order on 23 December, noting that it was necessary to discourage further desertions. The sentence came as a shock to Slovik, who had expected a dishonorable discharge and a jail term (the latter of which he assumed would be commuted once the war was over), the same punishment he had seen meted out to other deserters from the division while he was confined to the stockade.

“Drove down to the woods and brought home one log today.  Some of the way the road is drifted quite badly.  The snow is plump a foot deep on the level in the woods.  Has been a very pleasant day today.”
Leesah

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