The Court Martial and Execution of Private Eddie Slovik, Deserted Soldier

When I read that line in a clipping I thought “WOW”. Then I thought “WHY?!” I never realized that there were military personnel who were tried, found guilty and executed for desertion. Looking up statistics, I found this: During World War II, 1.7 million courts-martial were held, representing one third of all criminal cases tried in the United States during the same period. Most of the cases were minor, as were the sentences Nevertheless, a clemency board, appointed by the Secretary of War in the summer of 1945, reviewed all general courts-martial where the accused was still in confinement, and remitted or reduced the sentence in 85 percent of the 27,000 serious cases reviewed The death penalty was rarely imposed, and usually only for cases involving rape or murder. Slovik was the only soldier executed who had been convicted of a “purely military” offense. His execution occurred on Jan 31, 1945.

I was able to find a 1954 piece by Louis Cook in the Detroit Free Press that covered it extensively. I have clipped it below.

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CLIPPED FROM: Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan / 04 Apr 1954, Sun • Page 1
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CLIPPED FROM: Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan / 04 Apr 1954, Sun • Page 1
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CLIPPED FROM: Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan / 04 Apr 1954, Sun • Page 14
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CLIPPED FROM: Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan / 04 Apr 1954, Sun • Page 14
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CLIPPED FROM: Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan / 04 Apr 1954, Sun • Page 14
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CLIPPED FROM: Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan / 04 Apr 1954, Sun • Page 14
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CLIPPED FROM: Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan / 04 Apr 1954, Sun • Page 14

The Execution of Private Slovik, 40 Years Later

In 1960, Frank Sinatra announced his plan to produce a movie titled The Execution of Private Slovik, to be written by blacklisted Hollywood 10 screenwriter Albert Maltz. This announcement provoked great outrage, and Sinatra was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. As Sinatra was campaigning for John F. Kennedy for President, the Kennedy camp became concerned, and ultimately persuaded Sinatra to cancel the project.

In 1974, the 1954 book was adapted for a TV movie starring Martin Sheen, also called The Execution of Private Slovik. Some dramatic license occurs, including during the execution. There is no evidence, for example, that the priest attending Slovik’s execution shouted “Give it another volley if you like it so much” after the doctor indicated Slovik was still alive.

The 1963 war film The Victors includes a scene featuring the execution of a deserter that closely resembles Slovik’s desertion and execution.

Kurt Vonnegut mentions Slovik’s execution in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut also wrote a companion libretto to Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat (A Soldier’s Tale), which tells Slovik’s story.

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