A Scheme that Backfired
Slovik stated: “I’ve made up my mind. I’ll take my court-martial.” Unfortunately it a bad time to get cute with the Army. At the time, Allied casualties in France were soaring, morale was low, and desertions were at an all-time high. To restore discipline, the authorities needed to make an example of somebody. Along came Slovik: a jailbird openly defying the military and daring it to do its worst. So it did. Slovik was charged with desertion, and got his day in court on November 11th, 1944. His confession was presented to the tribunal, and he declined to testify. Slovik was not surprised when he was convicted. He was unpleasantly surprised, however, when the court did not sentence him to the relative safety and comfort of prison, as he had hoped. Instead, it handed him a death sentence.
Slovik’s sentence was approved by his division commander, who noted: “I thought it was my duty to this country to approve that sentence. If I hadn’t approved it—if I had let Slovik accomplish his purpose—I don’t know how I could have gone up to the line and looked a good soldier in the face.” A frightened Slovik, who knew that other deserters had been punished with prison and a dishonorable discharge, wrote General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, begging for clemency. Eisenhower rejected the plea. On the morning of January 31st, 1945, Slovik was strapped to a post near the French village of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. At 10:04 AM a firing squad of twelve soldiers from his regiment shot him with M1 Garand rifles, killing him instantly.