20 April 2011

Cowards: The Execution of Private Slovik

By Karen Mercury

Poor Eddie Slovik never stood a chance. Before enlisting in the Army he’d done a few stints in the big house in Michigan for stealing. He finally obtained a paying job plumbing and even managed to find a wife but they still lived with her parents. Maybe that was why he seemed so eager to join the army in ’44 after initially being rejected for his prison record. The Army decided that some criminals were actually pretty adept at killing people, so they finally let him in. In France, Slovik and his friend Tankey hid during an artillery attack and became separated from their detachment. This was when Slovik realized he “wasn’t cut out for combat.”
I always imagine that the men who voluntarily enlisted knew what to expect, but apparently the reality was too much for poor ol’ Eddie. So they found a Canadian military police unit and hid with them for six weeks. Tankey wrote to their regiment to explain the situation, and since many replacement soldiers had been separated from their units, no charges were filed. But hiding from combat was a much more serene lifestyle for Eddie, so on October 8 he just up and told his commander he was too scared to serve in a rifle company, asking to be assigned to a rear area unit. He told the commander he’d run away if assigned to a rifle unit and asked if that would constitute desertion. The commander confirmed that it would, and went ahead and sent him to a rifle unit.

The next day, Slovik deserted. Tankey tried to get him to stay but Slovik’s mind was made up. He walked to the rear until he found a cook at another detachment, showing the cook a note he’d written that stated his intention to run away if sent into combat. Isn’t that a little like writing someone a note informing them you’re having sex with their spouse? See, Eddie thought the worst thing that could happen would be the stockade, and he was already quite familiar and comfortable with that idea. He wanted to be court martialed and kicked out of the army. He didn’t reckon that, this being a fairly hairy war with tons of casualties as well as desertions, they needed every last available body to fight, or possibly even make an example out of him to deter other would-be deserters.

So the cook got the company commander and an MP who read Slovik’s not terribly bright note, and everyone urged him to destroy it. Slovik refused to destroy the note, so he was brought before LtC Henbest, who again offered him the chance to toss the note, return to his unit, and face no charges. Once more Slovik refused, so Henbest ordered him to write another note on the back stating he fully understood the legal consequences of incriminating himself by writing a note stating he intended on deserting—which Eddie gladly did. He was given a chance to join a regiment who had no clue of his cowardly past, but Eddie preferred to take what he thought would be a simple court martial.

He was instantly court martialed and sentenced to death, which isn’t terribly surprising in light of how he waved his intentions in everyone’s face and rejected several opportunities to change his mind. Back in those days, it took less time to carry out a death sentence than to get a parking ticket eradicated.
Shocked, he even wrote Eisenhower pleading for clemency, but the Supreme Commander responded with apathy. There was little sympathy for ol’ Eddie. One of his firing squad executioners said “I got no sympathy for that 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 execution was carried out in France on January 31, 1945. Slovik said, "They're not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I'm it because I'm an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that's what they are shooting me for. They're shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old." Soldiers strapped him to a post with belts and the chaplain said to him, “Eddie, when you get up there, say a little prayer for me. Slovik said, “Okay, Father. I’ll pray that you don’t follow me too soon.” And Slovik was slammed with eleven bullets.

There were many other deserters during WWII but Slovik was the only one ever executed. Were they making an example of Slovik, to deter other would-be deserters? Or were they just fed up with his blatant in-your-face refusal to join his comrades in battle? His wife and others have petitioned seven Presidents for a pardon, but no one has granted it yet. Sad old Eddie goes down in history as the first enlisted man to be executed since the Civil War for being stupid.

Karen Mercury's first three historicals, including STRANGELY WONDERFUL were set in precolonial Africa. Her latest, WORKING THE LODE, is an erotic romance set during the California gold rush. Available now!

23 comments:

tarenn98 said...

Although,he deserted,What a sad thing to happen to him and his family.For I am sure they also felt the fallout from his decision.
tarenn98[at]yahoo]dot]com

Karen Mercury said...

Yes, his widow was never able to get his remains returned to the States. Regan finally allowed them to return in 1987. Not to mention, no pension!

Dr J said...

Thanks for telling this story. There are so many injustices that are often subsumed under the category of "the Glory of War" and as in this case, decades later, family are still working to bring closure and justice to their situation. There is no denying that he had issues that were at the root of his decisions, and yet it does seem time to put the correct "spin" on this -- that he was indeed a "token" for the military.
Thanks again for making this story a part of our present-day literary experience.

Pamala Knight said...

Long ago, I vaguely remember seeing a movie based upon Slovik and his execution starring Martin Sheen. It's strange that he didn't take any of the alternative opportunities offered to him. I agree, how sad that his family probably bore the brunt of his ill-fated decision.

Karen Mercury said...

Right, that Martin Sheen movie! I was just looking into that.

I think everyone was just fed up. This was right before or during the Battle of the Bulge when we lost so many men, and almost nobody had sympathy for poor Eddie. So strange he didn't take any of the options they kept offering him.

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

Karen, I was hoping somebody would focus on this particular deserter. It's a very interesting case. I do have to wonder why he didn't take the many options to avoid his ultimate fate.

Karen Mercury said...

That was the strangest thing, Anna. He couldn't POSSIBLY have believed he was "just" going to get court martialed, but all the evidence points to that, since no one had been executed since the Civil War. Now I really want to see that Sheen movie!

librarypat said...

I think your last sentence says it all. He was executed for being stupid. How many times do you have to give someone the chance to save themselves? He was given more opportunities than anyone else I have heard of and more than he deserved. No one in their right mind wanted to be out there being shot at. It is sad all the way around, most of all for his family.

Dakota said...

Slovik was drafted, he did not voluntarily sign up for war. In fact, he wrote hundreds of letters to his wife about how much he hated military training and combat. He wrote down he would desert because he believed he would be extended clemency and only given jail time (which he preferred to combat) instead of a death sentence.

Anonymous said...

If he had hidden out a year, the war would have been over and he'd be forgotten. He turned himself in--dumb. Ike was wrong to execute him. Stupid army leaders.

Anonymous said...

Get your facts straight Karen. He didn't join, he was drafted. And he wasn't "stupid", he was right, they just used him for an example. Over 21,000 others deserted in WW2 and weren't executed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was stupid thing to say he was stupid.

Anonymous said...

I wish Karen Mercury would change what she wrote about Slovik. He was not "...eager to join the army..." Eddie Slovik was conscripted! There is so much misinformation on the Internet. For example, another web site claims Slovik was executed by a "french" firing squad. Yes, they failed to capitalize French.

Anonymous said...

My uncle was on that fireing squad and always said he felt very sad for Slovik,He was picked from his squad for the firing squad for his exspert marksnanship with a rifle,The rifles used was a 03-A3 Springfield wich i believed is a
30-06 caliber which is a large caliber bullet.In the 1950s my uncle told us the story one time and never talked about it again.When the movie was made the actor Martin Sheen played Slovik. y uncle said he always felt bad about the shooting because of him being the only one ever shot and it was not a French squad that shot him it was American.Also my uncle had a younger brother who was in the Army Air Force and became a Ace shooting down a total of 6 German aircraft and had one railroad train and one bridge destroided to his credit,My mother who were thiere sister also served in the Army as a nurse.I myself served in the USAF.According to my uncle telling the story there was a mix up in the paperwork giving Slovik the life sentence instead of death by fireing squad.I will not give my name unlees i haft to for posting this and them will ask the maderator to please leave my name off because do not want the family named in this horrible mistake.

Anonymous said...

My uncle was on the fireing squad that shot Pvt Eddie Slovik,The newpaper came to our home town and tryed to talk to him about this and he refused,He told us kids about once during the 1950s and then refused to talk about it again.His brother was also a Ace flying a P-51 with 6 German planes shot down and one railroad train destroed plus one bridge,My mother also served as a nurse in the military.I myself served in the USAF.

Not A Sock Puppet said...

America, Land of Freedom. Where you can get conscripted into an Army and get shot like a common criminal for refusing to kill.

Solar said...

his results in errors in the story. The soldier shot dead his body is untied is not Slovik. The picture shows the executed German soldiers Manfred Pernass. This was executed on 23.12.1944 in Henri-Chapelle (Belgium). The rest of the story can be found on the internet ...
https://picasaweb.google.com/Greif1944/ScrapbookPhotos

Mike said...

For desertion, he received what all should receive for that act.
I serviced over 20 years in the Army and experienced direct combat with the enemy.
Desertion, I would hope that they you are executed for that shameful act.
I see all comments must be approved by the blog author.

Censorship, I hope you do not use it as a tool allowing only your point of view.

George E Corwin said...

Rest is peace, Slovick. You received the punishment deserved!!

Anonymous said...

As a nation and a military we should be ashamed. This incident never should of reached the point of no return as we know it today. Dwight D. Eisenhower also should have had no relation or decision to the fate of Mr. Slovick. The execution of Mr. Slovick and it's message of deterent to others as a warning not to leave or abandon their respective units, was not a warning at all, in fact, it sent a clear message that the US Military Justice System is as vulnerable and corrupt as any other justice system. You cannot carry out a death sentence for such an act, and deem it fair, when you have 25,000 other individual acts that precede this one and they all were given a FREE PASS. That alone speaks injustice. And it's a damn shame that it came from our own stock, at that time. Regardless, if your personal opinion of them man is one of cowardice, it still does not justify the carrying out of a death sentence, the punishment does not fit the crime, period. Some men are cut out for combat, others are not, however, that does not mean that retain the power, nor the discression to become judge, jury, and executioner if a fellow soldier decides not to fight, because the bottom line is he/she is still one of our own. Everyone want to take into account the timing of Mr. Slovik's decision being that it involved the "Battle of the Bulge", and we needed boots on the ground, yet no one wants to weigh in or take into account his background history into why he never wanted to be there in the first place, and that he was drafted?! None of this evidence was taken into consideration nor examined appropriately and it reflects our military judgement of character at the time. In addition, after Mr. Slovick's death, there were to be some 6,000 plus cases of desertion after the fact. The message looks like it was well received?? Terrible. It's a stained blemish on our victorious resume of WW2 that no one dare talk about. And it should be talked about. Loud and clear.

@Mike: I highly doubt that you seen any real "direct combat". Trust me. Any fool that would support such a coward act as to killing one of your own for such a trivial act in the name of military justice, has to be an ex-MP. Because of you saw real combat, you would agree with where I'm coming from right? "WE" combat vets know the virtue of compassion, because it is something that is instantly instilled in you once you take someone's life, over, and over, and over. You can weigh the meaning of life, this it's measured in DEATH. But you wouldn't understand that @Mike, because I highly doubt you saw any combat, with any enemy, besides maybe a video game. Your comment strikes me as something I would hear from a REMF. You probably never engaged anybody in combat operations, and probably still tell people you earned a CIB.

Edward Slovick, may you rest in peace, and you will always be forever honored brother. You will be home soon.

Major Todd E. Vogel
2/327 101Abn. Div.
3 combat deployments "AFGHAN"

Anonymous said...

How many other men who were scared shitless did their duty regardless? Screw this guy and the Hollywood socialist Martin Sheen as well.

Flame away.

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