Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on May 22, 2018
Patrick K. O’Donnell’s 2018 book is a World War I odyssey with a unique perspective that propels the reader through violent air combat, submarine-infested waters, and reeking defensive trenches flowing with mud and refuse that still scar parts of Europe. We are introduced to colorful characters from all walks of life who fought bravely in those locations. After the war, they were selected to bring home America’s first unknown soldier. Sergeant Edward F. Young was one of them. He relied on an unexplained feeling of kinship to choose that unnamed soul from one of many flag-draped coffins. The stories of the others who joined him in that duty are shared as the remaining chapters unfold.
You might think that the words and deeds of those first body bearers would be enshrined in hundreds of books and movies. They are not. Why? O’Donnell’s research is considerable. The bibliography at the end of this book is a list of lost treasures. How has this gone unnoticed by anyone for so long? All I can say is that the whole thing reads like a civic revelation. “The Unknowns” is more than a book title that recognizes the origin of a solemn rite that continues to this day. It’s an acknowledgement of the fact that we know so very little about these men. They survived epic carnage before being asked to participate in the establishment of what is now a much-visited memorial with enough tragedy and triumph stored within its white marble walls to make us think twice before marching off to war. The tranquility of Arlington National Cemetery is enhanced by the ceremonial guard that always stands watch over the honored dead, rain or shine.
World War I may be hard for some 21st Century readers to understand because they have a hundred years of hindsight to look through. As told by the author, inspiration for this memorial originates in the hearts and minds of men and women who survived the war to that was supposed to end all wars. The inertia of accidental war is something we ought to pay closer attention to as conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq continue for a second decade. We have forgotten the lesson that this tomb and memorial are intended to teach as completely as we have overlooked what little was recorded about the men who made that sacred place a reality. That’s why this book is worth your time to read.