This made-for-TV movie from NBC and Universal – which aired on Wednesday 13 March 1974 – tells the true story of the 1945 execution of Private Eddie Slovik at St Marie aux Mines in France by a US Army firing squad for desertion.
Slovik (Martin Sheen) is drafted into the infantry during World War II after his former classification of 4-F (because of a prison stretch for petty theft) is changed to 1-A.
When his attempts to get out prove futile he warns his Captain that he is too nervous and afraid to serve in a rifle company, and eventually deserts.
Slovik turns himself in for court-martial and sentence and when he refuses to retract his confession or rejoin his unit, he becomes the only US soldier since the American Civil War to be executed for desertion.
The subject matter is sensitively handled with no big speeches about duty and honour, and while the death penalty for the emotionally troubled Slovik seems severe, the main players from the US Army have no personal agenda – they’re simply following the process and doing their job.
The court-martial scene was filmed in the Grand Ballroom of the Queen Mary, in Long Beach, California. The rest of the movie was filmed at Camp Roberts, California, and in Montreal and Quebec, Canada.
Footnote: While Slovik was the only American soldier executed for desertion during WWII, around 100 other US servicemen were executed during the war, mostly for the murder and rape of unarmed civilians.
Lt. Col. Leacock
Warren J. Kemmerling
109th Regiment Sergeant
James Burr Johnson