Book Review: The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WWI’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home


by Patrick K. O'Donnell

New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2018. Pp. xxiv, 360+. Illus., maps, personae, notes, index. $27.00. ISBN: 0802128335

The Unknown Soldier Comes Home

In this new book, O’Donnell, the well known author of Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc and other works in American military history, explains how eight highly decorated American soldiers, sailors, and marines, came to be carrying the casket of an unknown comrade who had fallen in the war to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 1921, three years after the Armistice ended the Great War.

Most of the book is actually about the war, how it came about and how America became involved, and particularly where and how Americans fought, culminating in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, America's greatest battle. As O’Donnell recounts the story of the American soldiers, sailors, and marines in the war, he comes to focus on how each of the men who became pall bearers distinguished himself in action, which also happens to illustrate the many ways in which Americans served. O’Donnell later follows up on the lives of these men, who are in a sense also “Unknowns”, as they soon faded from public notice.

Only in the final section does O’Donnell address the British and French origins of the movement to select one of the many unknowns for recognition as a way honoring all of them, which was done in Paris and London on Armistice Day of 1920, and emulated the following year in Portugal, Italy, and the United States.

The Unkowns is an excellent read for anyone interested in America in World War I or in memorialization.


Note: The Unknowns is also available in audio- and e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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