Little Bits of History

The Only One

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2012

Private Eddie Slovik

January 31, 1945: Private Eddie Slovik is executed for desertion. Edward Donald Slovik was born February 18, 1920 in Detroit, Michigan. He was in trouble with the law frequently. His first arrest came when he was twelve. Over the next five years, he was caught breaking and entering, disturbing the peace, and committing petty theft. He went from stealing brass from a foundry to car theft. Jailed in October 1937, he was paroled in September 1938. Back in jail in January 1939 for auto theft, he was paroled again in April 1942.

Eddie got a job in Dearborn, Michigan working for Montella Plumbing Company. There, he met Antoinette Wisniewski. They married on November 7, 1942. The young couple lived with her parents. Because of his criminal record, Eddie was listed as 4-F and ineligible for the draft. In 1943 the US military reclassified him to 1-A and he was called up late in the year. He was sent to Camp Wolters in Texas for basic training. He began military service on January 24, 1944 and after completing training was shipped to France. He arrived in Europe on August 12 and was assigned to Company G of the 109th Infantry Regiment, US 28th Infantry Division.

Eddie deserted his unit twice. On October 8 Eddie approached his commander, Cap. Ralph Grotte, and said he was “too scared” to join a rifle unit and asked to be assigned to a rear unit instead. Request denied. On October 9 he approached an MP and said he would “run away” if forced to the front lines. He was brought before Lt. Col. Ross Henkest and made his request in writing. Request denied. Instead he was put in the stockade.

Eddie was court-martialed on November 11 and charged with desertion. He was found guilty and sentenced to death (his criminal record was a contributing factor). The army was having a tremendous problem with deserters. Eddie wrote to Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower and asked for clemency. Request denied. He was buried in a numbered grave along with 96 other Americans executed (for murder and rape). During World War II 21,049 US military personnel were convicted of desertion and 49 were sentenced to death. Eddie was the only one to be executed. His family repeatedly requested permission to bring Eddie home. He was finally brought back to Michigan and buried next to his wife in 1987.

Everything happens to me. I’ve never had a streak of luck in my life. The only luck I had in my life was when I married you. I knew it wouldn’t last because I was too happy. I knew they would not let me be happy. – Eddie Slovik, in last letter to his wife

I’m okay. 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. – Eddie Slovik

Private Slovik was killed by the United States for the crime of refusing to serve the United States with a rifle and a bayonet, for desertion to avoid the hazardous duty of close combat; and … the only American to be executed for such an offense. – William Bradford Huie

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? – a member of the firing squad

Also on this day:

Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Radiation Trap – In 1958, James Van Allen was given the means to describe the eponymous bands.
Love Bug – In 747: The London Lock Hospital opened as the first venereal disease clinic.