Today in 1944, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower authorized the search of a court-martial concerning Eddie Slovik, a soldier who was tried for desertion, and approved his execution. The sentence is first of such to be carried out against a U.S. Army soldier since the Civil War, and the only man to be punished for such a crime during the Second World War.
Private Eddie Slovik was a recruit and was initially classified 4-F because he has a prison record. However, he was moved up to a 1-A classification when the army lowered its draft standards because of the need for increased personnel in the army. In January 1944, Slovik was trained as a rifleman but he did not like it because he hated guns.
By August of that year, Slovik was deployed to France to fight with the 28th Infantry Division due to the division having already suffered great loss in the hands of Germany. As far as some officers in the army were concerned, Slovik was a substitute, a class of soldier not to be regarded. As he and his partner were heading towards the front lines, they became lost but were fortunate to find a Canadian unit that took them in.
He and his partner were with the Canadians until October 5 when they turned them over to the American military police, who send them back to the 28th Division, now in Elsenborn, Belgium. No charges were brought against them because it is not strange for substitutes to get lost on their first tour of duty. However, precisely a day after Slovik reunited with his unit, he said he was "too frightened and nervous" to be a rifleman and threatened to flee if forced into battle. His claimed was disregarded and Slovik took off. A day after his return, he signed a confession of desertion, asserting he would flee again if forced to battle, and submitted it to an officer of the 28th. The officer advised Slovik to take the confession back, as the result would not augur well. Slovik refused the advice and he was kept in the stockade.
It is not a new thing to the 28th Division because cases of fighters deliberately injuring themselves or leaving their unit with the hope that they would get a jail sentence that would at any time shield them from the hazards of battle. Afterwards, a legal officer of the 28th offered Slovik a deal to "go into battle immediately in order to avoid court-martial," which he refused. On November 11, Slovik was tried for desertion and in less than two hours, he was convicted and sentenced to be shot to death by a nine-officer court-martial panel.
Slovik tried appealing but it failed. The authorities believed that he intentionally challenged the authority of the United States of America. Slovik was to pay for his disobedience and made a scapegoat for others. He made use of his last appeal to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander. Unfortunately, the timing was bad because the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest was causing America great causalities not to mention a soldier surrendering because he felt too scared. Eisenhower approved the sentence.
In January of 1945, Slovik was shot in eastern France by a 12-man firing squad. It was reported that none of the riflemen who shot Slovik felt remorseful for their action because they believed he got what he deserved.