Earlier today I posted a scene from “The Victors” based on the execution of Eddie Slovik, the only US soldier shot for desertion in World War II.
A detail in the Wikipedia article on Slovik about his wife’s campaign to clear his name caught my eye. I’ve now come across the New York Times’ 1979 obituary for Antoinette Slovik. She was evidently a little older than Eddie. And it was eight years after his death that she found out he had been executed:
Antoinette Wisniewski Slovik, widow of Pvt. Edward Donald Slovik, a soldier in World War II who was the only American to be executed for desertion since the Civil War, died yesterday in Sinai Hospital in Detroit after a long illness. She was 64 years old.
Mrs. Slovik, whose only survivors are two sisters in Detroit, had been living in a nursing home and was confined to a wheel chair with polio, arthritis and other illnesses. Next week the Senate was scheduled to vote on whether her husband’s service record could be changed to allow her to have his $10,000 National Service Life Insurance policy, for which she had waged a long campaign.
With accrued interest, Mrs. Slovik maintained, the policy was valued at $75,925. The Army held that she was not entitled to it because her husband had been convicted of desertion, but Mrs. Slovik contended that the Army had committed legal and moral errors in convicting and executing him.
Private Slovik, a Detroit draftee, was 24 years old when he was executed in France on Jan. 31, 1945, by an Army firing squad for desertion on the battlefield. But the Slovik case did not come to national attention until 1954 when William Bradford Huie’s book, “The Execution of Private Slovik,” was published. The book portrayed the soldier as an impoverished and unstable social misfit whose name was plucked at random for execution.
According to Mr. Huie, about 40,000 American soldiers deserted under fire in World War II. Of these, 2,864 were convicted and 49 were sentenced to death. But only Private Slovik was executed.Private Slovik’s execution came at a time when Allied generals were reporting that desertions had reached “alarming proportions” after the Allies suffered a serious setback in the German offensive of December 1944.
Private Slovik deserted on his first day under fire, after he was assigned as a replacement rifleman with the 28th Division, which, along with the 101st Airborne Division, bore the brunt of the German drive. Brought back, he deserted again and the Army, with the approval of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, apparently decided that his execution would serve as a deterrent to others.
Mrs. Slovik learned of her husband’s death in March 1945, but it was not until 1953, when Mr. Huie interviewed her while gathering material on her husband’s death, that she was told he had been executed. She spent the rest of her life trying to clear her husband’s name and to persuade the Army to remove his body from the nameless grave in the Oise‐Aisne American Cemetery in France where he was buried next to soldiers executed for rape and murder.
She also features on FindAGrave.Com with pictures of her in later life, her with Eddie and her grave, and another bio with furtherdetails:
Antoinette Wisniewski was born with epilepsy and one leg three inches shorter than the other, which was followed up by infantile paralysis and limited her ability to walk. She worked at Montella Plumbing Company in Dearborn, Michigan. It was there that she met Edward Donald Slovik who had just been paroled from reform school. Despite these handicaps, the couple was determined to marry and did so on November 7, 1942. When Eddie got a job at the old DeSoto plant, they got their own duplex. For the next months they were happy and secure in the belief that ex-convicts would not be drafted but were unaware of the invasion of North Africa. Slovik had been classified 4F because of his prison record, but was reclassifed 1A during a military manpower shortage and received his draft notice shortly after the couple’s first wedding anniversary. He was so unhappy that he wrote long letters (376 of them) to her during his 372 days in the Army.