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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.

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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
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