This Day In History: Eisenhower Confirms The Death Sentence For A Deserter (1944)

On this day, General Dwight Eisenhower confirms the findings of a court-martial that sentenced the first American soldier to death for desertion. It was the first such sentence since the American Civil War. The court-martial sentenced Eddie Slovik to death for desertion in the Fall of 1944. Slovik was the only soldier in the American army who was executed for desertion in World War II.

Eddie Slovik was a draftee and had originally been passed over by the Draft Board. This was because he had a prison record. Slovik has stolen a car when he was a teenager. However, the army was in desperate need for men by 1944 and men with criminal records like Slovik were drafted into the army. In January 1944 Slovik was trained as a rifleman but he was not very good as he was afraid of guns! That August he was shipped to France and was sent to join the 28th Infantry Division.  He was sent to the front line in France.  When he reached the battle zone he became lost and he and a companion stumbled around until they found a Canadian unit. He and his companion were able to rejoin their unit. He moved with his unit into Belgium where there was heavy fighting. One day after re-joining his unit Slovik disobeyed an order to go to the front with his platoon. He refused to go because he admitted that he was too scared.  He repeatedly refused to obey direct orders to go forward to the frontline. Slovik told his superior officer that if he was sent to the battlefield that he would run away. His officers were appalled and he later signed a letter admitting that he would desert and he was taken to a stockade. The 28th Division had very low morale and it was suspected that many men were wounding themselves in order to be sent back to the rear. There were also suspected cases of desertion. A senior officer gave Slovik the opportunity to redeem himself and to throw himself into the battle and everything would be forgotten.

general-dwight-d-eisenhower
General Eisenhower

Slovik refused and he was court-martialed and the nine judges sentenced him to die. He later appealed the sentence, but his appeal was rejected. He was deemed to have directly challenged the authority of the US army. It seems likely that if Slovik had been more cooperative and had shown some remorse then he would have been spared the death sentence. Moreover, Slovik was being tried just as the Battle of the Bulge was starting. The US army was suffering thousands of casualties and many Generals and officers believed that Slovik should be made an example of.  Eisenhower upheld the sentence of the court.

Several days later, Slovik was shot to death by a 12-man firing squad in an American base in France in January 1945. Many in the army believed that Slovik got what he deserved.

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