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February 18

In 1920, on this day, Edward Donald Slovik was born to a Polish-American family in Detroit, Michigan. During the liberation of France, he held the rank of Private in Company G of the 109th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 28th Infantry Division.

Unfit for DutyConvicted of a series of minor offences, his criminal record made him classified as unfit for duty in the U.S. military (4-F). But shortly after his first wedding anniversary, he was reclassified as fit for duty (1-A) and subsequently drafted by the Army. While en route to his assigned unit, Slovik and a friend he met during basic training at Camp Wolters in Texas, Private John Tankey, took cover during an artillery attack and became separated from their replacement detachment. This was the point at which Slovik later stated he found he "wasn't cut out for combat".

The 28th Division was scheduled to begin an attack in the Hurtgen Forest. The coming attack was common knowledge in the unit, and casualty rates were expected to be very high, as the prolonged combat in the area had been unusually grueling. The Germans were determined to hold, and terrain and weather reduced the usual American advantages in armor and air support to almost nothing. A small minority of soldiers (less than 0.5%) indicated they preferred to be imprisoned rather than remain in combat, and the rates of desertion and other crimes had begun to rise. Slovik was charged with desertion to avoid hazardous duty and tried by court martial on 11 November 1944.

Found guilty and sentence to death, he was the first US soldier since the Civil War to face execution for desertion. Supreme Allied commander General Eisenhower confirmed the execution order on 23 December, noting that it was necessary to discourage further desertions. But the reaction from the ranks was overwhelmingly negative, and in the interests of morale he was forced to commute the sentence to re-assignment to a non-combat division. After the war, he was encouraged by his wife Antoinette to correspond with a number of former servicemen, including Kurt Vonnegut and of course his former colleague John Tankey. And ultimately it was their political activities during the latter phase of the Korean war that ultimately derailed Eisenhower's "I Like Ike" Presidential Campaign in 1952 under dishonourable circumstances [1]. And so it goes [2].