War crimes during WWII were often perpetrated by the Axis countries, such as Germany and Japan, but there were also some convictions concerning offenses committed by members of the United States Army.
More precisely, 161 individuals, all belonging to the US Army, were trialed and executed for their crimes during that war. The convictions ranged from desertion to rape and murder. These cases were dealt with harshly, as the US military believed it was necessary to handle such excesses with a firm grip. Otherwise, the image of the Allied Army would be the same as that of its enemy – partial or complete disrespect for the Geneva and Hague Conventions. They constituted the rules of warfare and the criteria by which actions are considered war crimes.
The background to committing such offenses was due in part to the fact that the drafting process into the US Army started to include convicts who had violent criminal records.
The choice for many of those convicts was either to join the army or go to jail. Many of them decided on the first option. Their reasons for doing so varied. Some wanted to clear their name by joining the fight because they saw the draft as their second chance in life.
Others were not so keen on serving their country but instead saw the war as an adventure and an opportunity to profit or at least escape their punishment.
There were also men who enlisted in the army so they could leave their former life behind; such as a failed marriage, financial debt, or to escape the grasp of personal enemies.
Some of the executions concerned crimes that happened in the homeland, before the soldiers embarked to fight in Africa, and later, Europe. Others were registered in Britain, before the D-Day Landings.
But the ones that attract the most attention are the 96 men who were executed in the European Theatre of War during and shortly after WWII. Their remains were buried in a secret section of the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Plot E, which is located approximately 70 miles from Paris.
The names of these “dishonored dead,” as they were called by the Graves Registration of the US Army, were omitted, and instead, a small flat gravestone commemorates each of them, with nothing but a number ranging from one to 96. All the men buried at the site had been dishonorably discharged from the army, just before their execution.
These men were convicted of crimes which include the killing of 26 fellow American soldiers and the rape or murder (or both) of 71 British, French, German, Italian, Polish and Algerian civilians. The victims included both male and female. The motives for the murders were exclusively personal.
Most of these crimes were gruesome and sadistic displays of the darkest parts of human nature.
Two of the victims involved children aged 15. Seven were raped and murdered on two different occasions in England and Northern Ireland. Other cases include adult victims. Among them was 75-year-old Agnes Cope who was assaulted and raped by Private Aniceto Martinez on August 6, 1944. Private Martinez currently occupies the grave marked with the number 39.
Privates Yancy Waiters (grave 31) and Robert L. Skinner (grave 64), conducted another especially gruesome crime. The men first murdered Auguste Lebarillier, who was accompanied by his girlfriend, Marie Osouf. The soldiers then raped the girl while holding more than twenty French villagers at gunpoint. All the witnesses later confirmed the event took place, and the soldiers were executed by hanging in the village of Hameau a Pigeon in France.
Scandals such as the one that happened in Hameau a Pigeon were damaging to the Allies reputation, but such misconduct occurred in all theatres of war, especially the Eastern Front.
Some of the verdicts are today being questioned as claims arose that three of the soldiers buried in France were most likely not guilty.
However, the US Army did not waste time in showing that all criminal activities towards the civilian population of Allied countries were not to be even slightly tolerated.