January 31: The Execution of Eddie Slovik, Alaska Airlines Flight 261 Crash, and Other Events of the Date
A number of important events have taken place on January 31 in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them
1945 – Second World War: Western Theater: the Execution of Eddie Slovik
How unlucky this guy was! Slovik was a soldier during World War II and the only American soldier to be court-martialed 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 forty-nine death sentences, Slovik's was the only one that was carried out. He certainly wasn’t a fortunate son. Here is what he said himself in his confession:
I, Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik, 36896415, confess to the desertion of the United States Army. At the time of my desertion we were in Albuff in France. I came to Albuff as a replacement. They were shelling the town and we were told to dig in for the night. The following morning they were shelling us again. I was so scared, nerves and trembling, that at the time the other replacements moved out, I couldn’t move. I stayed there in my fox hole till it was quiet and I was able to move. I then walked into town. Not seeing any of our troops, so I stayed over night at a French hospital. The next morning I turned myself over to the Canadian Provost Corp. After being with them six weeks I was turned over to American M.P. They turned me loose. I told my commanding officer my story. I said that if I had to go out there again I'd run away. He said there was nothing he could do for me so I ran away again AND I'LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE.
— Signed Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik A.S.N. 36896415
Another historical remark should also be made: During World War II, 1.7 million courts-martial were held, representing one third of all criminal cases tried in the United States during that period. Most of the cases were minor, as were the sentences, even though news of rapes, murders and other serious crimes committed by the Americans in Europe wasn’t very rare.
Nevertheless, a clemency board, appointed by the Secretary of War in the summer of 1945, reviewed all general courts-martial where the accused was still in confinement, and remitted or reduced the sentence in 85% of the 27,000 serious cases reviewed. The death penalty was rarely imposed, and those cases were indeed for rapes or murders, thus Slovik was the only soldier executed who had been convicted of a "purely military" offense--desertion.
1971 – Vietnam War: Anti-War Movement: Winter Soldier Investigation
The Winter Soldier Investigation was a media event sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) from January 31-February 2, 1971. It was intended to publicize war crimes and atrocities by the United States Armed Forces and their allies in the War. Thus, it was a very important mark in the history of the anti-war movement in the U.S.
The VVAW challenged the morality and conduct of the war by showing the direct relationship between military policies and war crimes in Vietnam. The three-day gathering of 109 veterans and 16 civilians took place in Detroit, Michigan. Discharged servicemen from each branch of military service, as well as civilian contractors, medical personnel and academics, all gave testimony about war crimes they had committed or witnessed during the years 1963–1970.
The event was not covered extensively outside Detroit, except by Pacifica Radio--thanks to Washington war hawks and their authoritarian approach to the freedom of speech. However, several journalists and a film crew recorded the event at their own risk, and a documentary called Winter Soldier was released in 1972. A complete transcript was later entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Mark Hatfield, and discussed in the Fulbright Hearings in April and May 1971, convened by Senator J. William Fulbright, chair of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Soon thereafter, the was practically over.
2000 - Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash
Alaska Airlines Flight 261 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico, to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, with an intermediate stop at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. On January 31, 2000, the aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, crashed into the Pacific Ocean about 2.7 miles north of Anacapa Island, California, after suffering a catastrophic loss of pitch control. The accident killed everyone on board: two pilots, three cabin crew members, and 83 passengers.
The subsequent investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that inadequate maintenance led to excessive wear and eventual failure of a critical flight control system during flight. The probable cause was stated to be "a loss of airplane pitch control resulting from the in-flight failure of the horizontal stabilizer trim system jackscrew assembly's acme nut threads. The thread failure was caused by excessive wear resulting from Alaska Airlines' insufficient lubrication of the jackscrew assembly.”
These are the most notable events in the U.S. history that occurred on January 31, at least in our view.