By Jim Lee: PNT columnist
Sixty years ago today, one of the worst events in human history came to its long-awaited end. The allies called it Victory in Europe, and the annual remembrance is called VE Day. The day commemorates the end of World War II in Europe.
With still a war to be won with Japan, millions upon millions of human beings (more than 20 million from the Soviet Union alone and at least 6 million Jews of many nationalities) perished in the conflict between Sept. 1, 1939, and May 8, 1945.
One of those lost lives was that of Eddie Slovik. Pvt. Slovik was intentionally killed by his own countrymen on Jan. 31, 1945, just after the Battle of the Bulge and only three months and a week before the end of the war.
He was a member of the 28th Infantry Division, a unit that endured 26,286 combat casualties. He was 24 years old.
Eddie Slovik came from a poor Detroit neighborhood and dropped out of school before finishing the ninth grade. From the age of 12 he repeatedly went along with friends in the commission of minor, non-violent offenses, such as petty theft and disturbing the peace.
He was jailed the first time at age 17 for stealing candy, chewing gum, and cigarettes from a drug store. A little over a year later he and two friends stole a car and wrecked it. The event cost Eddie some prison time.
Paroled in 1942, his prison record designated him 4-F draft status, ineligible for the military.
After getting paroled from prison, Eddie Slovik married Antoinette Wisniewski and seemed to be straightening out. He had a job and a marriage and a new life. But the military needed replacement troops badly enough to lower standards. His draft status changed to 1-A. Two months later, Slovik was in the army.
The recruit had a reputation for being good-natured but hating weapons. He arrived in France on Aug. 20, 1944, and was assigned to Company G, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division.
On the way to the front, his unit ran into hostile fire. Slovik got separated and ended up in a Canadian encampment until Oct. 5. Thinking he would be locked up, then released after the war, Slovik decided to desert.
His court-martial handed down a death sentence.
He pleaded for clemency, but it was not granted.
Among the factors against him were his police record and the growing desertion rate in the U.S. Army. So Pvt. Edward Donald Slovik died by firing squad.
More than 21,000 American soldiers were sentenced for desertion during World War II, 49 of them to death, but Eddie Slovik remains to this day the only U.S. soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War.
It is understandable, especially right after the Battle of the Bulge, that the firing squad and front-line veterans had no sympathy for this deserter.
The grief and frustration of his wife is also understandable. For the rest of her life she tried to have Eddie’s remains returned to Michigan for burial. Eight years after Antoinette Slovik died, her husband came home in a box and was buried beside her.
Virtually no one who has served in the military will even try to justify desertion (myself included), during the war in Europe or any other war, but casualties come in many forms.
The events of Eddie Slovik’s short life can tug at our hearts without taking anything away from those VE Day veterans in America’s greatest generation. Take a moment on this VE Day and reflect on the waste and the pain that war can bring.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: