Executed deserters in Great Britain during World War II

World War II: The only US deserter to be executed

Grace or no grace: it can sometimes be a matter of timing. If the request for a mitigation of the sentence of the common soldier (private) Eddie Slovik had not been presented to the commander-in-chief of the allied troops in Western Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, on December 23, 1944 of all things, but ten days earlier or six weeks later: the 24-year-old deserter very likely would have survived the war.

But there was no worse time than the pre-Christmas period of 1944 for his application. Slovik posted the letter asking for the death penalty to be converted to prison on December 9th. It took almost two weeks for the letter to reach Allied headquarters.

And just on the Saturday before Christmas an adjutant presented it to the five-star general. But Eisenhower had completely different worries that day: a week after the start of the German Ardennes offensive, one of his best and most important units, the 101st Paratrooper Division, was encircled in Bastogne. More than 10,000 GIs had already fallen in the past few days, twice as many wounded and again the same number either missing or captured.

So in this situation of extreme tension, Slovik asked for mercy. Eisenhower could hardly help but refuse - the soldiers fighting for their lives in the Ardennes would not have understood anything else.

The commander-in-chief stayed there for the following four weeks, during which his men bloodily recaptured the German land gains as a result of the Ardennes offensive: On January 31, 1945, Slovik was executed by shooting. He was the first GI since the civil war of 1861 to 1865 to be executed for desertion, and he remained the only one.

Slovik is not suited to be the hero of the peace movement that he has often been tried to be. Because he was not entirely innocent of the harsh judgment.