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Could Eisenhower have saved Private Slovik?

8/21/2012 • Ask Mr. History, Dwight Eisenhower

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was highly upset over the slapping incident on Sicily regarding General George S. Patton, but on January 31, 1945, Private Edward Slovik was court-martialled and executed for desertion, the only death sentence for an American Soldier during World War II.

Could General Eisenhower have interceded with the Court Martial Board or gone directly to President Roosevelt to grant a clemency for Slovik, or were there other matters the general public to this day does not know?

Thank you,

Robert S.

? ? ?

Dear Robert,

It is possible that General Dwight D. Eisenhower might have interceded to commute Private Edward Slovik’s death sentence—in fact, Slovik, wrote Ike directly on December 9, 1944, requesting just that. Slovik, however, was a victim of the times. He had deserted on October 9, 1944, just as his unit, the 28th Infantry Division, was about to go into the Hürtgen Forest, already known to be a meatgrinder. He had written of his decision and that, if returned to his unit, he would desert again—and rejected entreaties by comrades and officers alike that he destroy the letter and return to the ranks, no questions asked. When his court martial began on November 11, the conviction was unanimous and the death sentence was approved by his division commander, Maj. Gen. Norman Cota (who previously, as deputy commander of my old outfit, the 29th Infantry Division, had literally fought alongside the troops on Omaha Beach and in the Norman hedgerows), who remarked, “If I hadn’t approved it—if I 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.” Slovik was counting on his sentence being commuted to prison time, which he told comrades he’d have no problem serving, but when Eisenhower got his letter on December 9, desertion was becoming systemic and on December 16, the Germans launched their large-scale offensive into the Ardennes. Deciding that an example had to be made, Ike rejected Slovik’s plea on December 23. On January 31, 1945, Slovik was executed at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.

During World War II there were 21,000 cases of desertion and 49 convictions. There were 102 executions for rape or murder, but Slovik’s was the only death sentence given and carried out for a purely military offense. He could not have picked a worse time to desert—under the circumstances Eisenhower, who could be plenty ruthless when he saw the need, was not about to overrule the court martial’s verdict.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History

10 Responses to Could Eisenhower have saved Private Slovik?

  1. John says:

    The man was not only a deserter in time of war and with an outfit in combat he admitted that if sent back to his unit he would do it again. He should have shot, hung and set on fire.

  2. Al S. says:

    You probably were not there, and only God can judge. No one who ever deserted the Vietnam crisis was ever shot. What a tradgic conclusion you came up with. Desertion is not the answer, but to be executed by your own country….what the HELL is the frigin difference.

    • John says:

      If you ever served in combat you would know. AND the deserter from Vietnam should have been tried, covected and shot too.

      • Larry C says:

        I concurr!

        I was CO of a special forces unit – all volunteers. Before the operation was all over we lost 19 of the 24 that started. As volunteers (for that operation) all had the option to leave at any time. The entire operation took 14 months. Not one ever backed out.

        To quote: “A coward dies many times; the valiant tastes of death but once”.

        (You will find nothing written anywhere nor any document on that operation as even to today the gover’t does not acknowlege it ever happened.)

  3. John says:

    And what most peple don’t think of is that a unit in or going into combat dosen’t have men standing in line to fill the empty slots that come from desertion or real combat lose. So a guy that deserts is one more gun thats not in the fight, so how meny men die as a resalt of being shot on men to cover all the gapes?

  4. Patti says:

    This poor soul would not have benefited his troops beside him…he was UNABLE to fight, hardly a coward..and on this Veterans Day 2012, I salute him Private Slovik, as he was not a coward, and the army handled this sooooo….poorly.

    • Mike H. says:

      Patti, any man who has ever been in combat and claims to be unafraid is either a damned liar or a sociopath…and,either way, I don’t want to be in combat with him. UNABLE to fight? Hardly. UNWILLING to fight? By his own admission, this was the case. Slovik got what any Soldier worthy of the name would say he richly deserved…and he was, and still is, unworthy of a salute.

  5. Mike says:

    I’ll bet Slovik would have enjoyed being slapped instead of being shot to death. But, Ike pissed on Patton, his best general, because of the media, not for any other reason. Ike could have commuted Slovik’s sentence, but he was too busy playing bridge and screwing his driver Kay Summersby.

  6. Jim Thompson says:

    “During World War II there were 21,000 cases of desertion and 49 convictions.” Actually there were 21,000 convictions for desertion in varying degrees…49 of them were death sentences…of those, 1 was carried out…Slovik’s

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