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Eddie Slovik Court-Martial: 1944

A "damn Good Guy", "if I Leave Now, Will It Be Desertion?", "i've Made Up My Mind"

Defendant: Private Eddie D. Slovik
Crime Charged: Violation of the 58th Article of War (desertion to avoid hazardous duty)
Chief Defense Lawyer: Captain Edward P. Woods
Chief Prosecutor: Captain John 1. Green
Judges: 1st Lieutenant Bernard Altman, Captain Stanley H. French, Captain Benedict B. Kimmelman, Major Orland F. Leighty, Major Robert D. Montondo, Captain Arthur V. Patterson, Captain Clarence W. Welch, Major Herbert D. White, and Colonel Guy M. Williams.
Place: Rotgen, Germany
Date of Trial: November 11, 1944
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Execution

SIGNIFICANCE: Private Eddie Slovik was the only American executed for desertion of military duty from 1864 in the Civil War to the present. His court-martial during World War 11 stands as an example of the precise application of the letter of the law. It leaves disturbing questions about whether, all things considered, it was a fair trial.

In August 1944, as American forces in World War II fought across France into Germany, replacement troops, fresh off the troopship Aquitania and just out of basic infantry training, were moved toward combat. As one truckload of 12 soldiers neared the city of Elbeuf, some 80 miles northwest of Paris, they passed miles of bloody and charred remains of men, horses, guns, trucks, and tanks left behind by fleeing Germans. The Americans expected to join G Company of the 109th Infantry, 28th Division—Pennsylvania's famed National Guard outfit, known since World War I as the Keystone or "Bloody Bucket" division.

Toward midnight, not having found G Company and with shellfire exploding around them, the raw troops were ordered to dig in for the night. Two men, Privates Eddie Slovik and John F. Tankey, holed into side-by-side foxholes as German shells continued to pummel them. In the morning, Slovik and Tankey, saying they could not find their 10 companions or their unit, presented themselves to a Canadian unit in the vicinity and were welcomed.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953