On Jan. 31, 1945, Pvt. Eddie Slovik, 24, was led out by an armed detachment in the late morning in eastern France. He wore his uniform, though it was stripped of all insignias, rank and other designations; a green military blanket was draped over his shoulders. The members from the 109th Regiment put a black hood over his head, as Slovik said his last words to the attending Chaplain: “Okay, Father. I’ll pray that you don’t follow me too soon.” They fired 11 rounds from their M1 Garands into him, killing him immediately.

Pvt. Slovik was the first and only soldier in WWII to be executed for desertion. He was the first to receive such a fate since the Civil WarCivil WarCivil War, as no Americans were executed in WWI for deserting either. There were many prosecuted cases of desertion in WWII, but most resulted in imprisonment, and only Slovik’s ended up in an actual execution. Most of the other executions were due to crimes like murder or rape.

Slovik was initially denied a spot in the draft, due to his criminal record — however, the growing need in WWII forced the militarymilitarymilitary to lower their standards. He was drafted and sent to the 28th Infantry Division, despite his objections. As he was headed to the front lines, he and his friend, John Tankey, used the confusion of battle to slip away during an artillery barrage. Though they eventually returned after six weeks, Tankey explained their actions and they escaped punishment.

Continuously trying to get himself reassigned, Slovik eventually told his chain of command that he was “too frightened to serve in a rifle company” and he would run away if he was assigned to one. He was told that this would mean desertion, but he insisted that he would run away anyway.