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Execution for Desertion
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Thread: Execution for Desertion

  1. #1
    Administrator Helen's Avatar
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    Execution for Desertion


    Eddie and Antoinette Slovik


    November 1, 2011

    Private Eddie Slovik: An Example Who Never Was

    By Rick Gleason

    It happened 67-years ago this January. It was an occasion that few people take note of or know much about. It was an event meant to be seared into the minds of every American combat soldier serving at the time. It was 1945 and in France the fighting of a World War was fierce.

    Eddie, a Polish-American born in 1920, had grown up during the depression on the mean streets of Detroit. A petty thief when 12-years old he was arrested several times and incarcerated twice as a teenager. Released from reform school after a short-term for breaking and entering he was sent to prison for stealing and crashing a car while drunk at 19. Three years later in April 1941 Eddie was once again released. He found work in Dearborn, Michigan and at the age of 22 married Antoinette Wisniewski.

    Originally deemed unfit for military service because of his criminal record Eddie was later reclassified and drafted in the Army in January 1944. Times were tough in those days, America needed every able-bodied man it could get. Even an ex-con would do with war raging around the globe. Eight months later, described as frail, timid and somewhat a misfit, definitely not military material, Eddie joined the troops in France as part of the historic 28th Infantry Division.

    Two things would play a major role for Eddie and his future. One, he was familiar with prison life and running afoul of the law. And two, he did not want to fight.

    In October 1944, a short time after his arrival in Europe, Eddie who said he “wasn’t cut out for combat” deserted his unit. Given several opportunities to reconsider and return to his rifle platoon Slovik refused and was arrested. (Several additional opportunities were offered, even at trial, but he rejected them all.) He was tried by court martial a month later for desertion and refused to testify on his own behalf. Found guilty Private Eddie Slovik was sentenced to death by firing squad. During the war over 21,000 U.S. military personnel were convicted for desertion. But, while around 50 of them were sentenced to the same fate as Slovik, none were executed.


    Eddie Slovik

    Eddie wrote Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower a letter asking for clemency.Slovik expected the same punishment he’d seen given to other deserters while confined to the stockade — a dishonorable discharge and a jail term. But luck was not on Eddie’s side. Desertion had been a problem in France, and the surprise German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge had just begun and U.S. casualties were severe. The strain on the morale of the infantry was at it’s greatest since the war began, so Eisenhower approved Slovik’s execution and noted it was necessary to discourage further desertions.

    On the morning of January 31, 1945, in the courtyard of a private French residence, 24-year old Eddie Slovik, standing before a high masonry wall, was shot by firing squad. Strapped to a post Slovik was struck by eleven bullets, but none were instantly fatal and it took several minutes for him to die. He is to this day the only American soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War. Slovik was buried in an American military cemetery in France alongside nearly 100 American soldiers executed for rape and/or murder. Like those beside him he was buried without a coffin, his body placed in a cotton mattress cover. The graves, hidden from view, are distinguished by small index-card sized markers inscribed only with numbers instead of names.

    In early May of 1945, three months after the execution, the war came to an end in Europe. Three months later Japan surrendered, after the dropping of Atomic bombs over two of its cities. Slovik’s story was supposed to have been an example to the American combat soldier of what would happen if they deserted. But no mention of the execution came down through the ranks nor were any articles printed about the condemned deserter in the Stars and Stripes, the American soldier’s newspaper.

    I first heard of Eddie Slovik from two soldiers who were fighting in Europe when he was executed. They were my uncles Eli and Wib. Eli was 22 at the time and his older brother 27. Both of them were seasoned combat veterans. Eli as part of the second wave on D-Day at Omaha Beach and Wib, who had fought at the Battle of the Bulge, with Patton’s Third Army. My uncle Wib said he hadn’t heard about Eddie Slovik until after he returned home. He was pretty sure none of his combat buddies had as well. Eli told me he hadn’t heard of Eddie Slovik until decades later when he saw a movie about him on television, The Execution of Private Slovik in 1974.

    Eddie’s wife Antoinette unsuccessfully petitioned the Army in 1977 to have her husband’s remains returned to the United States. She died in 1979. In 1981 a Polish-American World War II veteran from Detroit, Bernard Calka, took up the cause and continued to petition the Army to return Slovik’s remains. Six years later he was successful when the Pentagon ordered their return. 42 years after his execution Eddie was reburied in a Detroit cemetery next to his wife.

    Captain Benedict Kimmelman, who had been a member of the court martial board, wrote in 1987 that “Slovik, guilty as many others were, was made an example, the sole example, it turned out.” He considered the execution an “historic injustice.”

    Although Antoinette Slovik and others have petitioned seven U.S. presidents for a pardon, none has been given.

    Everything happens to me. I’ve never had a streak of luck in my life.


    Private Eddie Slovik, Woodmere Cemetery, Detroit

    http://rixxblog.wordpress.com/2011/1...-eddie-slovik/
    "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."
    - Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian

    “There are some people who just do not deserve to live,”
    - Rev. Richard Hawke

    “Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence"
    - Edgar Allan Poe

  2. #2
    Administrator Helen's Avatar
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    Shot at Dawn

    A few steps from the North Sea, on the beach near the hamlet of Oostduinkerke, Belgian soldier 2é Grenadiers Aloïs Walput is tied to a pole and shot by his fellow-men. The execution of this 21-year-old war-volunteer took place on 3rd June 1918.


    Execution in the Dunes


    The picture was made a few seconds after the man died: two soldiers cut the body loose, an officer (the medical doctor?) takes the exact time, the spurred commander of the firing-squad looks on. It was the last of thirteen known cases wherein a Belgian court martial send a soldier to death.

    During the Great War many soldiers were executed. The armies wanted to set examples to the troops. Do not walk away from our war - we shoot you if you do. The men were shot for desertion, mutiny, cowardice (even if it was caused by shell shock or other mental affections), and other breaches of discipline.

    During the war the executions were kept silent. Robert Graves: "I had my first direct experience of official lying when I arrived at Le Havre in May 1915 and read the back-files of army orders at the rest camp. They contained something like twenty reports of men shot for cowardice or desertion. Yet a few days later the responsible minister in the House of Commons, answering a question from a pacifist, denied that sentence of death for a military offence had been carried out in France on any member of His Majesty's Forces" (in Goodbye to all That, 1929).

    After the war all armies made their files on the executions top secret. Of course there were rumours and in a few cases the truth leaked through. Only these last years some of the archives have been opened and now, slowly, thanks to the efforts of independent researchers and journalists, the storiesbecome public.

    As a result of this political debates have been started in several countries. about reviewing the sentences. New-Zealand has already pardoned (through Act of Parliament) the soldiers it executed in WW1. The Canadian government has offered an apology and formally announced its regret for what happened. England announced in August 2006 that it will formally pardon (on moral grounds) all soldiers who were shot by firing squads.

    Numbers

    In total British court martials had 306 soldiers shot at dawn. Among them were 25 Canadians, 22 Irishmen and 5 New-Zealanders.

    Australia was the only country that did not want its soldiers (all volunteers) to be executed. The 129 Australians (including 119 deserters) that were sentenced to death during the war (117 in France) were not shot.

    Between April 1917 and November 1918 American court-martials sentenced 24 American deserters to death. One was actually shot. Stragglers and deserters were often publicly humiliated.

    From the German army about 150,000 soldiers deserted. Most of them fled to the neutral Netherlands and to Denmark and Switzerland. From those who got caught no more than 18 were executed (compare this to the 10.000 deserters Germany shot in the second worldwar).

    In the French army more than 600 soldiers were put to death. Little known is the French decimation (the shooting of every tenth person in a unit) of the 10e Compagnie of 8 Battalion of the Régiment Mixte de Tirailleurs Algériens. During the retreat at the beginning of the war these French-African soldiers refused an order to attack. They were shot on the 15th of December 1914 near Zillebeeke in Flanders.

    http://www.greatwar.nl/frames/default-shotatdawn.html
    "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."
    - Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian

    “There are some people who just do not deserve to live,”
    - Rev. Richard Hawke

    “Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence"
    - Edgar Allan Poe

  3. #3
    Banned TheKindExecutioner's Avatar
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    In this day and age they would never execute for desertion. It's hard enough to execute vicious killers!

  4. #4
    Senior Member Member OperaGhost84's Avatar
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    I'm still a bit surprised that the US never pardoned Slovik. Actually, no I'm not (why lie for rhetorical sake?) It's not like he was innocent or anything.
    I am vehemently against Murder. That's why I support the Death Penalty.

  5. #5
    But there have been service men suffering from the effects of 'shell shock' that have been executed! In some cases just to make a point! As in 'Paths of Glory' a film about a true event in WW1!

  6. #6
    Administrator Helen's Avatar
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    Clearly they had no sympathy, or any real knowledge of mental illness, or brain injury associated with being in battle. Below is a list of the 25 Canadians executed and a couple of these soldiers showed signs of brain trauma.

    http://www.stephen-stratford.co.uk/canadians.htm
    "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."
    - Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian

    “There are some people who just do not deserve to live,”
    - Rev. Richard Hawke

    “Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence"
    - Edgar Allan Poe

  7. #7
    Senior Member Member OperaGhost84's Avatar
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    And then there was Eddie Slovik, who never faced incoming fire until the day he died. Despite what he would tell you, he was executed because of how brazenly he deserted. This is a man who discarded his rifle upon landing in France, made no efforts to re-unite with his unit when he got hopelessly lost, outright told his commanding officer that he would not go on the line and walked out on him, handed over written confessions to any officer and soldier that would take them, turned down numerous offers to recant the confession(s) and go back on the line, willingly let said written confession be administered in court for his Desertion charge even though he was well informed that desertion in a time of war was punishable by death, and even outright said he'd rather be in prison than combat. From there, the case was out of his hand but the jury pushed for the maximum in accordance to the statutes. It's not like there was doubt of his guilt and he didn't look like he was "Shell Shocked" so the sentence was given. What was Eisenhower supposed to do? I mean who is he to say no to anyone? Not for nothing, but a lowly private, a deserter at that, ranks pretty low on the supreme commander's to-do list that features winning World War II on it and I re-state, it's not like there was doubt of his guilt. Commuting the sentence would be an insult to all the men in his command who did face enemy fire. Really, the only person in the entire US Army who was surprised that Slovik was going to be shot was Slovik himself. He then did the only honourable thing in his entire service and faced the Firing Squad head on.
    I am vehemently against Murder. That's why I support the Death Penalty.

  8. #8
    Administrator Helen's Avatar
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    I read that only 10 Americans were executed during WW1 and Slovik was the only one executed for desertion, the other 9 were for crimes such as murder and rape. It seems that Slovik did not help himself, given the way he behaved. Had he behaved more appropriately the army may have chosen someone else to make an example of.
    "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."
    - Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian

    “There are some people who just do not deserve to live,”
    - Rev. Richard Hawke

    “Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence"
    - Edgar Allan Poe

  9. #9
    Senior Member CnCP Addict Richard86's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OperaGhost84 View Post
    I'm still a bit surprised that the US never pardoned Slovik. Actually, no I'm not (why lie for rhetorical sake?) It's not like he was innocent or anything.
    I didn't think a pardon strictly speaking declares the person innocent though, only forgives them for their crime and absolved them of their criminal charges. It was one of the issues regarding a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing's indecency conviction, a pardon would recognise that a crime had taken place, whereas exonerating Turing (and everyone else convicted under the same statute) would acknowledge that the "crime" should never have been a crime in the first place.

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