Pvt. Eddie Donald Slovik
Company G, 109th Infantry Regiment
28th Infantry Division

17 July 2006 - Henbest Took Private Slovik's Confession - Southwest Missouri Man Witness To Infamous Desertion Case

I'm writing this story about my uncle, Lt. Col. Ross C. Henbest, who passed away March 30, 1948, at the young age of 44.

Henbest, born April 6, 1904, in Cassville, Mo., has a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas and a master's degree from the University of Michigan. For several years, he was a member of the Gulf Port Military Academy faculty in Biloxi, Miss. In World War II, he was a battalion commander in the 28th Infantry and led his troops through France, where he was awarded the Bonze Medal for courageous service. After the war, he returned to the University of Michigan to finish his Ph.D degree in political science and history. He passed away a few months before the degree was to have been given.

As a battalion commander, Henbest was witness to the confession of the only American soldier executed for desertion in World War II.

On Oct. 9, 1944, Henbest received the handwritten confession from Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik. Henbest tried to persuade Slovik to take the confession back, knowing the damage this would bring to Eddie. Slovik refused to take the confession back and, at that time, Henbest and 1st Lt. Wayne Hurd recorded the statement. Slovik was then placed in the division stockade.

On Jan. 31, 1945, upon orders from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Slovik was tied to a post and shot to death by a firing squad of his own regiment.

There were 96 soldiers executed in World War II. Eddie was the only one executed for desertion.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik was a 24-year-old Detroit draftee when he was assigned to Company G, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division. In France, he deserted twice and said he would desert again. Prepared for a court martial, Slovik received the death penalty. He appealed to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander, who refused to intervene so Slovik's execution would deter other deserters.

Antoinette Slovik was told simply that her husband died in the European Theater. She learned the truth in 1954 when William Bradford Hule published his book "The Execution of Private Slovik."

The book has gone through several printings, the most recent with Westholme Publishing in 2004. Another book on the topic is "American Deserter, General Eisenhower and the Execution of Eddie Slovik" by Charles Henry Whiting (J Whiting Books, 2005).

A 1974 television movie, based on Hule's book, starred Martin Sheen. The TV drama spurred a new drive to have Slovik pardoned and his wife, Antoinette, given GI widow's benefits. She died in 1979, two weeks before a vote in Congress for those benefits.

In the late 1970s, an Army review board looked at Eddie Slovik's case, where an amendment would have allowed the benefits to his widow. The board ruled against any change, making the only official comment by the Army.

Since then, many veterans have approached each U.S. president to have Slovic pardoned, to no avail.

Slovik was buried under a numbered headstone in the criminal section of the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France. His remains were returned to the United States in 1987 and were buried in his hometown of Detroit, Mich. Bernard V. Calka, a WWII vet, worked seven years to have Slovik returned to American soil.

SOURCES: The Associated Press, American Heritage magazine, "The Execution of Private Slovik" by William Bradford Hule

Garry Henbest, Springdale Morning News - Springdale,AR,USA

Slovik execution haunts after 60 years

By Oliver Prichard

Inquirer Staff Writer

On the morning of Jan. 31, 1945, in the French Alsatian village of St. Marie aux Mines, a U.S. Army private in Pennsylvania's 28th Infantry Division was marched into a snowy courtyard, strapped to a post, and shrouded with a black hood.

A general recited the soldier's crimes. A priest gave last rites. A dozen men took a position 20 paces from the accused, leveled their M-1 rifles, and fired.

As the volley spattered blood and flesh, the slight body convulsed, stiffened, and made a last lurch upward. Death was pronounced even as the rifles were being reloaded.

For fleeing combat, a troubled 24-year-old named Eddie Slovik became the only serviceman since the Civil War executed as a deserter. Despite a long, ongoing crusade by a few Philadelphia-area men to win him a posthumous pardon, his rendezvous with a firing squad still stands after 60 years as a forbidding symbol of military justice.

Pvt. Slovik's execution was meant as a warning. Yet it has not deterred thousands of service personnel who every year, in war or peace, go AWOL intending to stay AWOL - the legal definition of desertion.

Last year, more than 5,000 military personnel abandoned their duty, according to the Pentagon, which did not specify how many did so Stateside or overseas, or how many were involved in the Iraq war.

The number sounds startlingly high. However, it is well below the 40,000 who walked away during the four years of World War II. And it is dwarfed by the 33,000 who deserted the Army alone in 1971 during the Vietnam War.

The rate has declined since that era, from about 5 percent to less than 1 percent of the 1.2 million-member armed forces today. The trend is attributable to the volunteer makeup of the military, plus a post-9/11 fervor to fight terrorism.

Recent enlistees "are saying, 'I'm here and I'm willing,' " said Army spokeswoman Kim Henry. "When they come forward, they're committed to helping the U.S. through the war on terror."

On the books, at least, desertion in wartime remains a capital offense. But no one is likely to suffer Slovik's fate, or anything close to it.

The military's zeal for prosecution has all but evaporated.

Two-thirds of Army deserters are caught, often when local police pick them up for unrelated infractions such as speeding. Of those returned to military custody last year, only 7 percent faced courts-martial.

Today's deserters typically are young and poorly educated, with histories of delinquency - much like Slovik - and they are more apt to flee for personal and financial reasons than a moral objection to the mission. Commanders have the latitude to consider the circumstances, usually leading to less-than-honorable discharges, non-judicial penalties such as cuts in pay or rank - or just a quiet welcome-back for the prodigal.

Even in high-profile desertions, punishment rarely exceeds a year in the brig.

That was the sentence handed Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia of the Florida National Guard after his court-martial in May for refusing to return to Iraq after a leave.

In November, former Army Sgt. Charles Jenkins was tried for deserting his post - in South Korea in 1965. Terrified of combat in Vietnam, he had fled to North Korea and hidden for nearly 40 years. His sentence: 30 days in jail.

The climate of leniency is not lost on Robert "Rocky" DeFinis, 77, a retired public relations man from Lansdale, Montgomery County, who never met Eddie Slovik but who has worked three decades to restore some honor to his name.

His most recent recruit to the cause is Matthew Wilkov, 35, a Lansdale lawyer formerly with the Judge Advocate General's Corps. The current request for a pardon for Slovik was filed five years ago; the Justice Department says only that the application is "pending."

"The government made a very quick decision to shoot this man," DeFinis said, "but they can't make a decision after all these years to pardon him."

A pardon would amount to little more than a merciful gesture. But no one believes the military is ready to make it.

Rocky DeFinis and Edward Woods met in the checkout line at the Acme supermarket in Lansdale in 1974, just as a television movie starring Martin Sheen as Slovik had thrust the execution into the public eye.

DeFinis was a World War II veteran intrigued by the story. Woods was a retired Army major, with a Bronze Star for heroism in the Battle of the Bulge, who had been appointed to defend Slovik in his court-martial.

The two watched the film at Woods' home, then stayed up half the night talking about the raw deal Slovik had gotten.

"Woods looked at me and said, 'What do you think, Rock? Should we do something to help this guy?' " DeFinis recalled. "And I said, 'Let's go.' "

It was hard not to feel sorry for Slovik. Raised by a violent father and alcoholic mother in Depression-era Detroit, he was in and out of jail for petty theft and joyriding in a stolen car. But by 22, he had a steady job as a shipping clerk and a wife, Antoinette, whom he described as the only good thing that happened to him.

In 1942, Slovik was classified 4-F, unfit because of his criminal record. As Allied casualties mounted in Europe, however, the military began casting a wide net for replacements. Slovik was reclassified and inducted into the Army on Jan. 3, 1944.

At basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, it became clear that he would embody none of the heroism for which his generation is remembered. He was 5-foot-6 and skinny, and had trouble walking because of a series of childhood operations to straighten his bowed legs. He so missed Antoinette, whom he called "Mommy," that during his 372 days in uniform he wrote 376 lovesick letters to her.

More debilitating, he abhorred violence. The booms of heavy artillery terrified him.

Slovik showed "total inability as a combat soldier," Col. Arnold Shaw, his commander, once wrote.

No matter. Slovik was promptly dispatched to Europe.

He was assigned to the 109th regiment of Pennsylvania's 28th Infantry, dubbed the "Bloody Bucket Brigade" for its red insignia. Arriving in August 1944, Slovik was trucked to Elbeuf, France, where the 28th had engaged the Germans.

Coming under mortar attack, Slovik and 14 other replacements dug a trench for the night. Later, in a confession filled with a ninth-grade dropout's fractured spelling, he recalled: "I was so scared, nerves and trembling, that at the time the other replacements moved out I couldn't move. I stayed their... till it was quite."

His platoon gone, he latched onto a unit of Canadian military police, cooking and doing odd jobs. After six weeks, they returned him to his regiment, which by then was in Brussels.

Facing combat again, Slovik deserted again. The next day he walked into a U.S. Army mess hall in Belgium with a confession he had written on a flower-delivery invoice for his wife: "I ran away again, AND I'LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE."

Slovik was arrested and charged with two counts of desertion. The Army offered to drop the case if he would report to the front, but he refused.

On Nov. 11, 1944, Slovik was tried in Roetgen, Germany, by a court-martial of 12 officers. The hearing took an hour and 40 minutes. Up against Slovik's own confession, Woods made no opening or closing statement and called no witnesses in his client's defense.

Found guilty on both counts, Slovik was sentenced "to be shot to death with musketry."

There was little reason to think it would happen. He was one of 2,864 deserters tried in World War II; 48 already had been sentenced to death, and each of those executions was stayed.

The time was right, though, for one bloody exception.

By late 1944, the war's outcome was in the balance, and desertion a problem that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower couldn't afford. While Slovik was refusing to fight, 6,000 members of the 28th died in the horrific Hurtgen Forest campaign.

On Dec. 16, Adolf Hitler counterattacked. Of 500,000 GIs who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, 19,000 were killed and 40,000 wounded. Thousands more fled to the rear.

"If you look at that dark time and the things Dwight Eisenhower was facing, they wanted to make it very clear desertion was not an option," said Sam Newland, a professor at the Army War College in Carlisle, Cumberland County, who has extensively researched the 28th. Slovik, "so blatant and unrepentant in his desertion," was the perfect object lesson.

The condemned man wrote to Eisenhower asking for mercy. He explained his fear of battle and that he "didn't realize at the time what I was doing, or what the word desertion meant."

He signed it, "I Remain Yours for Victory."

Eisenhower's only response came on Dec. 23, when he approved the first execution for military desertion since 1864.

Witnesses reported that Slovik was stoic at the end, his only show of bravery as a soldier.

Nick Gozik is one of the few still alive who saw it.

"It was very unnerving," said Gozik, 84, of Pittsburgh. "I had been through the Battle of the Bulge; there were things I don't even want to talk about. But the reason this was so bad was that the Germans didn't do it. We had executed one of our own."

Slovik was buried in a numbered grave in the criminals' section of the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France, among 95 American soldiers who had been hanged for violent crimes such as rape and murder.

Although he was to be an example, the Army did not publicize his execution, for reasons never divulged. Antoinette Slovik was told merely that her husband had been killed in the European Theater.

Only nine years later did she learn the truth, after journalist William Bradford Huie wrote The Execution of Private Slovik, the book that inspired the film that inspired Woods and DeFinis.

At first, the two men thought that in the process of pressing their cause, they could land book deals, too. They combed Slovik's trial record for errors and blanketed Washington with letters. They also formed an unlikely alliance with Antoinette Slovik after seeing her on TV.

Destitute and decrepit, she was living under an assumed name in a Detroit nursing home. As the widow of a dishonored veteran, she had been denied about $70,000 in GI death benefits. DeFinis and Woods resolved to help her get the benefits.

In 1977, she moved into an upstairs bedroom in DeFinis' home, and they began a circuit of news shows, winding up outside the White House in a well-covered protest. That prompted an Army review board to consider amending Eddie Slovik's record, which would have released his benefits to his widow.

The board ruled against it, issuing the military's only official comment since the execution.

Slovik had fled combat in hopes of spending the war in "the relative safety of the stockade," the panel wrote. "There must be a fatal deterrent to those who would desert the field of battle in the face of the enemy."

On Sept. 7, 1979, two weeks before Congress was to vote on a bill to award her the money, Antoinette Slovik died at 64.

DeFinis and Woods kept up their fight to rehabilitate Eddie Slovik's memory, approaching every president since Gerald Ford (1974-77) and spending about $100,000, DeFinis says.

When Woods died last year at 86, he was no closer to winning Slovik's case than in 1944.

"I think the government is afraid that if they do right by Eddie Slovik, it will lessen their ability to keep order and discipline," said attorney Wilkov. "By refusing to approve or reject the pardon, it will hang out there forever as an example of what could happen to you."

Military experts agree it is likely Slovik will never be pardoned and deserters will continue to face a theoretical death.

"On a personal level, you might say, 'Who cares? Just do it for the family,' " said Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University and a retired Army colonel. The larger concern, though, is "the signal it sends."

Scott Silliman, a Duke University law professor and former Air Force lawyer, points out that legions of World War II prosecutions seem unfair today - but "trying to go back to right all the legal wrongs would be impossible," he said.

"If you start with Slovik, where do you end?"

High-Profile Desertions

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia

In May, Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia of the Florida National Guard was sentenced to a year in prison for desertion despite his pending objector application. Mejia filed his claim after refusing to return to his unit in Iraq while home on leave.

Sgt. Charles Jenkins

After his trial in November, former Army Sgt. Charles Jenkins served 25 days in jail for deserting his post in South Korea in 1965. Jenkins, who was terrified of being sent to combat in Vietnam, spent 39 years living in North Korea. He is now living on a Japanese island with his wife, whom he met in the Hermit Kingdom.

Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun

In a bizarre desertion incident, Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun failed to report in June to his unit near war-torn Fallujah, then said he had been abducted by Islamic terrorists. Hassoun later was charged with desertion, but he didn't show up this month at his court proceeding. The Marines recently declared him a "most wanted fugitive."

The Execution of Eddie Slovik - A private dies because of the generals' fears

by Random Outlier
Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sixty-three years ago today formal charges were filed against Private Eddie D. Slovik of Detroit, Michigan.

One hundred seven days later he died in the snow-clogged courtyard of a story-book villa near St. Mary aux Mines in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France.

Mark that date. January 31 commemorates  the state's ultimate power  to kill you for something you didn't do. 

By every account Private Slovik died calmly and bravely at the hands of his comrades, twelve other 28th Infantry Division privates of the cannon-fodder class. Find whatever irony you will in his stoic demise for the offense of cowardice, specifically desertion in the face of the enemy.

The Slovik saga was first and best told to the world by William Bradford Huey, although the execution "by musketry" of the sad young loser was a semi-public display.

Chair-warming brass and combat veterans from the 28th's  ranks watched Slovik slump as the eleven .30-06 rounds tore into his body -- less  to punish him for a not-uncommon crime in 1945 than  "pour encourager les autres."

The point having been made where it counted and the relevant others presumably encouraged, the public relations might of the government of the United States of America united in "ssshhhhh."

It would be impolitic to let the folks back home, including Mrs. Slovik, learn that an American soldier was killed as a coward and, moreso, for the home front to be given enough information to wonder why the example was needed.  

It took Huie eight years to assemble the story.

It is a libertarian must-read, a piece of interesting history and an objective commentary on the ultimate relationship between a man and his community. It is a warning of what can go wrong when high powers discover their own errors.

Objective? Even the military PR machine at last thought it was. When movie makers began asking for Pentagon cooperation in making a film of the book, defense officials said yes, but  only if they promised the film would be as even-handed as the book.  

Huie himself assigns no malign intent to the generals who killed the private, but he gives us something even more frightening -- an operational necessity for "the system."


Why kill a pathetic 25-year-old former juvenile delinquent who couldn't even make a go of petty crime -- whose most serious civilian offense was embezzlement of $59 worth of candy and gum from his employer?  Whose letters to his wife -- three and four a day --  began "Dear Mommy" and were simply protracted whines?

It has a little something to do with errors in high places. 

In the American land war in Europe 1944-45 some 40,000 G.I.s deserted. Forty-nine cases were serious enough to earn a "death by musketry" court-martial sentence.  Exactly one resulted in execution,  making Slovik the only American military man executed by official order since 1864.

And in his coda to the depressing tale, Huie writes, "...it would be difficult to challenge a prediction that Private Eddie Slovik will be the only American put to death for avoidance of duty between 1864 and the year, somewhere in the future, where the United States cease to be free."

"When," he writes. Not "if."


Slovik died because our leaders were afraid. After the Normandy victory in the summer of 1944 there was a tacit promise by national politicians that Europe was won, that a quick slash into Germany would topple Hitler's Nazis and shower glory on American arms in time for Christmas if not Thanksgiving.

It didn't work out  that way, and the campaign settled into a dreary, bloody, semi-static slugfest in the mud  that drains the will of the rifle-company grunt.

Desertions, malingering, combat fatigue soared, and division brass became aghast at the number of empty foxholes. And even after Hitler fell, Tojo remained to be beaten at a projected blood price one million American casualties.

We needed more cannon fodder, and back in America the barrel-scraping began. "Don't test their eyes; count 'em."

Eddie Slovak, the  semi-cripple and ex-con who seemed to be re-ordering his life, had married another semi-cripple after being assured he was  4-F now and forever.

A year or so later, the generals and politicians changed their minds, and by late 1944 Slovik was in uniform and shipped off to war in Europe. Like thousands of others he entered combat  through a replacement depot --- the  repple depple system even the generals conceded cruel and dangerous in sending frightened, half-trained  young men off to fight alongside strangers.

At his first taste of hostile fire he froze, then ran. He turned himself in, confessed to desertion, and refused a deal to return to duty in lieu of a general court martial. He preferred the warm safety and three squares of the stockade to the terror of the lines. Eventually, he assumed, he would go free.

He was convicted and sentenced to death -- a sentence almost no one believed would actually occur. It would be reduced to imprisonment somewhere up the chain of command, just like all the others. But it wasn't.

His division commander, Major General Howard. D. Cota,  approved  death "by musketry." So did General Dwight D. Eisenhower, clearing the way for MPs to haul the private back to his regiment to face his  dozen comrades who, however reluctant they might have been, were "only following orders."

The firing squad lined up 20 yards from the post where Eddie was tied. On command they unlocked and raised their M1 Garand rifles, a weapon firing ammunition lethal and precisely accurate out to hundreds of yards. 

The volley was precisely timed but badly aimed, and for a few moments it appeared a second salvo might be needed. But Private Eddie Slovik obligingly bled out, saving military face along with the price of  eleven rounds of .30-06 ball ammunition and one blank.

The high officers returned to their desks and death detail to their units, not pleased but generally secure in their belief that they had acted as faithful executors of the will of the People of the United States of American -- their community. 


Even the most anarchistic libertarian concedes the need for community of one sort or another, to create it, to police it, to defend it. But he will argue that cooperation  best results from a community-wide gentlemen's agreement to act rationally, to err always on the side of the individual while limiting coercion to the most crucial matters of community survival.

We killed Eddy Slovik because our generals  feared his cowardice threatened our survival.

In hindsight, we rather wish we hadn't done it, in part because of Slovik himself, an amiable loser throughout his life, a person no one really disliked, and the last man in the world one might consider a crucial threat to the American community, regardless of what he did or did not do.

And because hindsight also makes it doubtful  that his execution shortened our war by  one minute, reduced its casualties by so much as a single case of trenchfoot. 

We killed the  private because we could, and because we were afraid.  We killed him to symbolize community supremacy over individual human life in an  historic moment when we were afraid.  


How frightened we are in this tortured decade  of a  new century which appears to be ushering in a  fresh round of social and economic entrophy?

Afraid enough to kill those who will not board a socialist bandwagon to "revise the world economic system?"  Or to execute he who voices  critical questions about military adventurism under the banner of anti-terrorism?

Probably not, at least not yet, but a freedom proponent who refuses to keep the Slovik example in mind is something less than a complete libertarian.


Huie, William Bradford, "The Execution of Private Slovik." New York,  1954, Delacorte Press.

The Sad Story of Private Eddie Slovik

Of all the U.S. soldiers charged with desertion during World War II, only one was executed--Private Edward "Eddie" Donald Slovik. It happened just after the Battle of the Bulge.

Only in a technical sense was Eddie Slovik a member of the 28th Infantry Division, and that was for just one day. It would seem then that his story should not really be regarded as part of the history of a proud division that suffered a total of 26,286 battle casualties--2,146 of whom were killed in action or died of battle wounds. Unfortunately, however, Private Slovik and the 28th Infantry Division figure together in the overall picture of the war in Europe.

Eddie Slovik was born in 1920 in a poor neighborhood of Detroit. He quit school in the ninth grade at age 15. He had several brushes with the law, the first in 1932, when 12-year-old Eddie and some friends broke into a foundry to steal some brass. Between 1932 and 1937, he was arrested several more times for crimes such as petty theft, breaking and entering and disturbing the peace. He was never a leader, but he was apparently a willing accomplice. Slovik first went to jail in October 1937, for stealing candy, chewing gum, cigarettes and change from a drugstore where he was working. He was paroled in September 1938, but in January 1939 he and two buddies got drunk, stole a car and accidentally wrecked it. Slovik was sentenced to 2 1/2 to seven years in prison but was paroled again, this time in April 1942. His prison record led him to be classified 4-F in the draft.

Two good things happened to Slovik when he was released from prison. First, he got a job in Dearborn, and second, he met and married Antoinette Wisniewski. Slovik was a personable, good-looking young man, but he needed a strong person to help and guide him. To those who knew the couple, it seemed that person was Antoinette.

The meat grinder of war eventually forced American draft officials to lower their standards in order to meet demands for replacement troops. As a result, Slovik's draft classification was changed to 1-A in November 1943. He was drafted into the infantry in January 1944.

During training, Slovik earned the reputation of being a good-natured buddy and learned to fire a rifle (which he hated) and other weapons. He arrived in France on August 20, 1944. Five days later he was assigned to Company G, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division.

En route to the front, when his group of replacements was fired on, they stopped and dug in. Somehow Slovik and a friend became separated from the others, who moved on in the night. The two men soon came upon the encampment of the Canadian 13th Provost Corps and "joined" it, staying until October 5. Slovik finally joined Company G on October 8, but he deserted about an hour later, ignoring the pleas of a friend not to leave.

A day later, Slovik voluntarily surrendered to an officer of the 28th Infantry Division, handing him a signed confession of desertion. He went on to state in that document that he would run away again if he had "to go out their [sic]." The officer warned the private that his written confession was damaging evidence and advised him to take it back and destroy it. When Slovik refused to do so, he was confined in the division stockade.

On October 26, the division judge advocate, Lt. Col. Henry P. Sommer, offered Slovik a deal under which the court-martial action would be dropped if he would go back to his unit. Slovik refused. As a result, on November 11, 1944, he was tried and convicted of desertion, although he pleaded not guilty at the trial.

Because of the seriousness of the charge, the court voted by secret ballot three different times. The sentence of death was voted unanimously each time. It is important to note that Slovik's police record could not have influenced the court, which did not have that information.

Slovik wrote a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower on December 9 pleading for clemency, but no basis for clemency was found. On December 23, in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower confirmed the death sentence. One month later, he ordered Slovik to be executed by a firing squad from the 109th Infantry Regiment.

A few officers were concerned that some members of the firing squad might be repulsed by this onerous duty. They need not have been concerned. The sentence was carried out at 10:04 a.m. on January 31, 1945. Not one member of the firing squad flinched. At the end, Eddie Slovik was braver in facing the rifles of the firing squad than he had been in facing the Germans.

No doubt influenced by "guardhouse lawyers" (other military prison inmates), Slovik had apparently believed that he would not be executed but rather imprisoned until some time after the war ended--when he would be able to return to his beloved Antoinette. Three key factors influenced the decision to execute him. One was that his police record was included in the clemency deliberations, and it counted against him. Another was that desertion had become a problem for the U.S. Army in the European theater. General Eisenhower and other commanders felt something had to be done about it. Finally, Slovik's case reached the point when it had to be reviewed and acted on by Eisenhower's headquarters just as the U.S. Army was heavily engaged in its bitterest and bloodiest campaign of the war in Europe--the Battle of the Bulge.

Two members of the firing squad later summarized what many front-line soldiers thought about the execution of Eddie Slovik. One reportedly declared: "I got no sympathy for the sonofabitch! He deserted us, didn't he? He didn't give a damn how many of us got the hell shot out of us, why should we care for him?" The other soldier said, "I personally figured that Slovik was a no-good, and that what he had done was as bad as murder."

Slovik's widow spent the rest of her life pleading with the U.S. Army and the federal government to pardon her husband. She died a few years ago, having failed in her lifelong struggle to erase the shame from her husband's memory.

It was, and is, a very sad tale.

Uzal W. Ent

The Execution of Private Slovik (1974) (TV)


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Release Date:

13 March 1974 (USA) more
The story of Eddie Slovik, who was executed by the Army in 1945, the only American soldier to be executed for desertion since the Civil War. | add synopsis


Won 2 Primetime Emmys. Another 1 win & 7 nominations more

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Great movie, not really history though ... more


 (Cast overview, first billed only)

Martin Sheen ... Eddie Slovik
Mariclare Costello ... Antoinette Slovik

Ned Beatty ... Father Stafford

Gary Busey ... Jimmy Feedek
Matt Clark ... Dunn
Ben Hammer ... Lt. Col. Leacock
Warren J. Kemmerling ... Maj. Fellman (as Warren Kemmerling)
Charles Haid ... Brockmeyer
Kathryn Grody ... Margaret
Paul Lambert ... Joe Sirelli

Jon Cedar ... Holloway
Joseph George ... 109th Regiment Sergeant
Laurence Haddon ... Piper
James Burr Johnson ... NCO

Tom Ligon ... Childs

Pvt. Eddie Slovik's Remains Are Found in San Francisco

Published: July 11, 1987

LEAD: The remains of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, which were lost on their way from France and then found in San Francisco, headed home to Detroit today, more than four decades after his execution for desertion in World War II.

The remains of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, which were lost on their way from France and then found in San Francisco, headed home to Detroit today, more than four decades after his execution for desertion in World War II.

Private Slovik's body, which is to be reburied here Saturday, had been scheduled to arrive on Thursday on Trans World Airlines Flight 769 from New York's Kennedy International Airport.

When the flight landed in Detroit, however, the box carrying the remains could not be found.

''During the course of the night we found that it was loaded on Flight 803 and wound up in San Francisco,'' said Dwayne Swindle, the T.W.A. station manager in Detroit.

Private Slovik was 24 years old when he became the only American soldier shot for desertion since the Civil War. He was executed by a firing squad on Jan. 31, 1945, and buried among the graves of 94 other soldiers who had been executed for rape and murder.

Bernard V. Calka, a Polish-American World War II veteran who worked for seven years to have Private Slovik reburied in his hometown, said his next step would be to pursue a Presidential pardon.

1945: Private Eddie Slovik, the last American shot for desertion

January 31st, 2009 dogboy

On January 31, 1945, Private Edward Donald “Eddie” Slovik became a curious outlier of World War II: he was executed by firing squad by the U.S. Army for desertion. He is the only person to have been so punished for that crime since the Civil War.

Pvt Slovik was, by all accounts, quiet and helpful, by no means a coward, and more than willing to aid in the effort of World War II, traits which would have put him among a large class of that war’s veterans. Unfortunately, he was also immobilized by shelling. Equally unfortunately, he knew it, and he decided to do something about it.

Slovik and a friend, Pvt John F. Tankey, first separated from their detachment under artillery fire in late August 1944, shortly after being shipped to France. The pair hooked up with a Canadian unit and spent six weeks pitching in. Having recused themselves from the hard shelling others were experiencing on the front line, they opted to rejoin their regular U.S. unit: Slovik and Tankey sent a letter to their commanding officer explaining their absence and returned on Oct. 7.

But the front lines were not a place for Pvt Slovik.

After his assignment to the rifle unit, which would face imminent danger during shelling, Slovik asked to be placed in the rear guard, indicating he was too scared to remain in front. His request was refused. He then reportedly asked whether leaving the unit again would be considered desertion, was told it would be, and opted for the seemingly safer route of, well, deserting. One day later, Slovik was back at a U.S. camp, this time turning himself in to the camp cook. He had drafted a letter explaining his actions and indicating that he knowingly deserted, permanently recording his guilt on paper.

It’s not clear whether Pvt Slovik was acting on principles or out of an understanding of the U.S. military judicial system. He was by no means the only soldier without affinity for the conditions of war, particularly on the allied side. During the war, thousands of soldiers were tried and convicted in military courts for desertion, but up to then, all had received only time in the brig. What is clear is that Slovik was repeatedly offered opportunities to return to the line, and he equally repeatedly refused.

The case was adjudicated on Nov 11 by nine staff officers of the 28th Division, none of whom had yet been in battle. One of those judges, Benedict B. Kimmelman, wrote a stark and intriguing account of his role in the story of Pvt Slovik, capturing the scene thusly:

Five witnesses were heard. The cross-examinations were perfunctory. The defense made no closing argument. The court recessed for ten minutes, resumed, and retired almost immediately afterward. Three ballots were taken in closed court, the verdicts unanimously guilty on all counts. In open court once more, the president announced the verdict and the sentence: to be dishonorably discharged, to forfeit all pay and allowances due, and to be shot to death with musketry. The trial had begun at 10:00 A.M.; it was over at 11:40 A.M.

As with all court martial cases, Slovik’s was sent to a judge advocate for review. His criminal record, including everything from destruction of property to public intoxication to embezzlement, did not endear him to the reviewer. More importantly, though, the advocate felt Slovik could be made an example:

He has directly challenged the authority of the government, and future discipline depends upon a resolute reply to this challenge. If the death penalty is ever to be imposed for desertion, it should be imposed in this case, not as a punitive measure nor as retribution, but to maintain that discipline upon which alone an army can succeed against the enemy.

Strangely, Pvt Slovik was the only person who would be exemplified this way.

Though the military tried 21,000 desertion cases and passed down 49 death sentences for desertion during the war, it carried out only Slovik’s. And in the war’s final battles, with Germany collapsing, his execution seemed like a surreal throwback. As Kimmelman notes, hundreds if not thousands of soldiers were strictly guilty of dereliction of duty and desertion in the waning days of 1944.

They’re not shooting me for deserting the United Stated Army — thousands of guys have done that. They’re shooting me for bread I stole when I was 12 years old. (Source)

Three weeks after his conviction and three weeks before the Battle of the Bulge, Slovik’s execution order was confirmed by the 28th Division’s commander, Major General Norman “Dutch” Cota. Cota was disturbed by Slovik’s forthrightness in confessing to the desertion, and, as a front line commander who had sustained severe casualty rates in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, had no sympathy for the crime.

After an appeal to the deaf ears of Dwight Eisenhower shortly before the sentence was to be carried out, Slovik was out of options. He was taken to the courtyard of an estate near the village of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and shot by 11 Army marksmen* at 10 a.m. By 10:04, as they were reloading, he was declared dead. His body was interred at a French cemetery, and after decades of lobbying the U.S. government, his remains were returned to Michigan in 1987.

Because he was dishonorably discharged, Slovik was not entitled to a pension, and his wife, Antoinette, stopped receiving payments. Curiously, though the Army managed to communicate this to her, they omitted the bit about the execution. She found out in 1953 from William Bradford Huie.

Huie was a journalist who took immediate interest in Slovik’s story, popularizing it with his book The Execution of Private Slovik, which was released in 1954. Twenty years later, the book and title were requisitioned for a well-received TV movie starring Martin Sheen and funded by Frank Sinatra.

* The firing squad included 12 marksmen, but one was given a blank. Despite their skill, the 11 remaining shooters did not manage to kill him instantaneously.

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Page last revised 02/06/2015
James D. West  www.IndianaMilitary.org