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The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II

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Unnamed Graves, a Secret Cemetery, Files Closed to the Public and Stored in "The Vault." During World War II, in the North African/Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operation, 96 American soldiers were convicted by Army General Courts-Martial and executed for desertion, murder and rape. Their victims were 26 fellow American soldiers and 71 British, French, Italian, Po Unnamed Graves, a Secret Cemetery, Files Closed to the Public and Stored in "The Vault." During World War II, in the North African/Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operation, 96 American soldiers were convicted by Army General Courts-Martial and executed for desertion, murder and rape. Their victims were 26 fellow American soldiers and 71 British, French, Italian, Polish and Algerian civilians. The executions were not ad hoc killings. General Eisenhower, or another theater commander, approved every proceeding, but the Army did not trumpet the crimes. After the war, the Army searched for a suitable site to inter the remains of all 96 men. It chose a plot of land adjacent to - but technically outside of - the World War I American cemetery of Oise-Aisne. The area is separated from the main cemetery by a high stone wall, concealed from view, and is closed to casual visitors. Called "Plot E" by the staff, others refer to it as "The Fifth Field." The judicial files on the 96 were even harder to find - until now.


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Unnamed Graves, a Secret Cemetery, Files Closed to the Public and Stored in "The Vault." During World War II, in the North African/Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operation, 96 American soldiers were convicted by Army General Courts-Martial and executed for desertion, murder and rape. Their victims were 26 fellow American soldiers and 71 British, French, Italian, Po Unnamed Graves, a Secret Cemetery, Files Closed to the Public and Stored in "The Vault." During World War II, in the North African/Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operation, 96 American soldiers were convicted by Army General Courts-Martial and executed for desertion, murder and rape. Their victims were 26 fellow American soldiers and 71 British, French, Italian, Polish and Algerian civilians. The executions were not ad hoc killings. General Eisenhower, or another theater commander, approved every proceeding, but the Army did not trumpet the crimes. After the war, the Army searched for a suitable site to inter the remains of all 96 men. It chose a plot of land adjacent to - but technically outside of - the World War I American cemetery of Oise-Aisne. The area is separated from the main cemetery by a high stone wall, concealed from view, and is closed to casual visitors. Called "Plot E" by the staff, others refer to it as "The Fifth Field." The judicial files on the 96 were even harder to find - until now.

31 review for The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barry Sierer

    Maclean’s book is fairly well written but hard get through due to its subject matter. The book is organized into; an overview of the military justice system, individual case files, and the follow up conclusions on the cases by the author. The US Army’s justice system was meant to be swift, severe, and public. Time from crime to execution averaged about 4-5 months. All the men in the files except one (Private Eddie Slovik, who was shot for desertion) were executed for rape and/or murder. In cases Maclean’s book is fairly well written but hard get through due to its subject matter. The book is organized into; an overview of the military justice system, individual case files, and the follow up conclusions on the cases by the author. The US Army’s justice system was meant to be swift, severe, and public. Time from crime to execution averaged about 4-5 months. All the men in the files except one (Private Eddie Slovik, who was shot for desertion) were executed for rape and/or murder. In cases when a US soldier was sentenced to death for murdering and/or raping a civilian, the execution took place at or near the original crime scene when it was logistically possible so that members of the victim’s family could be witnesses. While these measures provided visibility to other US servicemen, and civilians in war torn areas, the information sent home to families of the condemned tended to be restricted and often unclear. Relatives received notes stating the condemned died “due to his own misconduct” or “judicial asphyxiation” (a euphemism for hanging). In most cases, there was no question about the guilt of the accused. The main avenue of legal defense centered on the circumstances of the crime and frequently the capacity for sound judgement on the part of the accused. The issue of race is impossible to escape in this work. By the author’s own research, Blacks made up approximately 8.4% of the Army in Europe during this period. Of the 96 men whose cases and executions were documented in this book, 78.1 % were black. It would be easy to say that black men were singled out, but a more complicated examination of the individual cases as well as the judicial environment involving factors such as conviction rates and punishments for soldiers of other races for the same or similar crimes would be needed. While Maclean gives some numbers about how many soldiers were court martialed overall at the beginning of the book, they are not broken down by race. General Eisenhower was quite aware of the issue and mandated that at least one Black officer be on any military jury in any case where the defendant was black and the crime involved “racial sensibilities”. This book may not appeal to readers of World War II history, especially if your focus is on battles or wartime leadership. This work may be more suited to those wishing to learn more about the inner workings of the military justice system.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bill Sleeman

    The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II by Col. French L. MacLean is a well-researched, fully documented and truly sad history of how the legal process, even one maintained by the “good guys” can struggle to keep up when faced with the many twists and turns of battle. In this work the author traces the crimes, arrests, investigations, trials and execution of 96 American soldiers who violated the military The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II by Col. French L. MacLean is a well-researched, fully documented and truly sad history of how the legal process, even one maintained by the “good guys” can struggle to keep up when faced with the many twists and turns of battle. In this work the author traces the crimes, arrests, investigations, trials and execution of 96 American soldiers who violated the military code of conduct. Although the fact that many of the condemned and executed were African-Americans immediately raises concerns about fairness and adequacy of representation MacLean addresses those concerns head on and thoroughly (and he notes that indeed a much smaller number of the condemned were White or Hispanic). More telling I believe is the fact that if we were to consider economic class alone – overwhelmingly the convicted were from poor homes and most commonly - poorly educated. In many instances, as Col. MacLean shows, the arrested lacked the intellectual ability to process the charges they faced and many of those arrested, based on the Army’s own standards at the time, probably should not have even been in the military at all. A point that the author makes several times in this work. A concluding section of the work “View from a Potential Defense Counsel or Trial Judge Advocate” goes into extensive detail on how each case might have played out if adequate counsel had been available and if a complete investigation had been possible in the warzone. But alas it was not. The stories here, as some of the documents include details as presented by the military police or guard units present at the time of the crime, also reminded me of my father’s experience in WWII as a shore patrol officer. My Dad would tell of how dangerous that duty was and how scared they often were when called out to respond to drunken and usually armed marines or sailors – the danger and tension could and often did lead, as Col. MacLean elaborates, to failures in investigative and arrest procedures, failures that in a state side capital crimes trial would probably have not been tolerated (one hopes). This work is a sobering and valuable contribution to our understanding of how the legal process operates, or not, in war and Colonel MacLean has done an excellent job in citing his sources and in letting the documents and events speak for themselves, he doesn’t shy away from the failures and the mistakes, he then concludes with a full and thoughtful analysis of the legal process on the battlefield and how, as he sees it, the military in its Courts-Martial and execution process did their best in amazingly difficult circumstances.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chad

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jason Pastor

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rodney

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve Karnes

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ben Wickerham

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    Evelyn Deverell

  10. 4 out of 5

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  11. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marcelmuise

  13. 5 out of 5

    Olivia Anders

  14. 4 out of 5

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  16. 4 out of 5

    Sm4cksm4sh

  17. 4 out of 5

    Hamish Davidson

  18. 5 out of 5

    Terri Zapata

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    Zachary Ebenfeld

  20. 4 out of 5

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  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris Morley

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    Janaine Paige

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    Ama

  27. 5 out of 5

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  28. 5 out of 5

    Dimitri

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Anthony

  30. 5 out of 5

    Crazyarms777

  31. 5 out of 5

    Christine McClure

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