Current Project: Novel-length story about Eddie Slovik.Who is Eddie Slovik?
Edward Donald Slovik (February 18, 1920 – January 31, 1945) was a private in the United States Army during World War II and the only American soldier to be court martialled and executed for desertion since the American Civil War. Although over 21,000 American soldiers were given varying sentences for desertion during World War II, including 49 death sentences, Slovik’s was the only death sentence carried out. During World War II, 1.7 million courts-martial cases were tried, representing one third of all criminal cases tried in the United States during the same period. Most these cases were minor, as were the sentences. Some were serious. Nevertheless, a clemency board, appointed by the Secretary of War in the summer of 1945, reviewed all general court-martial cases where the accused was still in confinement. That Board “remitted or reduced the sentence in 85 percent of the 27,000 serious cases reviewed.” The death penalty was rarely imposed, and all of those cases typically were for rapes and murders. Only one executed “had been convicted of a ‘purely military offense.'”
My First Chapter:
January 31, 1945.
“It is too cold out there to shoot someone.”
Slovik heard the line from Morrisson and pressed deeper into his jacket, deeper into the corner of the barnhouse, deeper into this corner of the Vorges Mountains.
The military police had lost the keys to his handcuffs, and the metal dug a bit deeper. Blood before the blood. They searched for a hacksaw to release his hands before walking outside. Nothing yet. There had been a blizzard for two straight days, burying this part of eastern France, stalling all business in the area. Almost stalling this business. There would be no practice. There would only be time for short prayers.
Father Cummings had rested his hands on Private Eddie Slovik, offering compassion and pushing for courage. He had talked to the other 12 young men with the same goals.
Slovik watched the father and the shooters for a few moments, and then started to cry a bit. He did not wipe his tears or try to hide them, but instead, reached deep inside his pocket, in an area that was still a bit warm, and pulled some letters from Antoinette. He did not read them. He just looked at them, looked at the lines, remembered them.
The last one was dated January 16, 1945. For certain, there were more written over the next 15 days. More concern and pleading, more love and frustration, more words that would not land anywhere. Would not land to anyone. Slovik brought the letters to his face and took a deep breath. Nothing. They smelled like cold dirt, like damp sickness. He pushed them back into his pocket as some of the military police walked toward him.
They brought him into a separate room of the barn and started to work on the handcuff chain with the found saw. One man went to work sawing, while another covered Slovik’s hands with clothe in case of a slip.
The military policeman awkwardly smiled a response. Slovik watched the other room empty into the cold outside, out the back of the barn, into a field against the edge of the mountains. After a few minutes the men switched tasks and eventually the work was done. Slovik stretched his hands into the air and back behind his back. As they left, one man gave Slovik a pat on the back.
He was the kind one, one of the four men he had just spent the last two days with, riding from Paris to here. Johnson was the name. During the storm last night, Johnson wanted to let Slovik run free in the storm. Not to escape, but to run like a boy one more time. Cold with the snow falling. Alive and almost free. Instead, Johnson gave him some coffee, told him to “relax and drink your coffee, it won’t be long now.”
For a moment, Slovik was alone. His heartbeat had finally subsided and he could simply hear nothing, which was beautiful.
Father Cummings came into the room with the sergeant of the guard. “It is time Private Slovik.”
Slovik did not move, and neither did the other two. Slovik looked at the sergeant and then at the father. Then he turned his eyes to the door at the back side of the bars and kept them there for quite a while. He took a deep breath and the bowed his head to the floor.
“Father, they are not shooting me today because I ran when I was afraid. Heck, thousands of guys did that.” Eddie paused and walked to the two men. “Those boys are shooting me today for stealing bread when I was twelve years old.”