Approximately two million American servicemen witnessed the moment the guns fell silent along the Western Front, and The Unknowns underscores how it met each man in a different place and a different way ... With exhaustive research and fluid prose, Mr. O’Donnell relates both the history of the Unknown Soldier and the story of America’s part in World War I through these soldiers’ experiences. The rich color of their singular narratives—and the broad history they reveal—affirm the wisdom, nearly a century later, of Pershing’s selections [of soldiers to inter the Unknown Soldier].
The mastery of O’Donnell’s writing is that he can bring together myriad themes and make them work together. The stories of body-bearers James Dell, Samuel Woodfill, Earnest Jansen, Charles Leo O’Connor, Thomas D. Saunders, Louis Razga, Harry Taylor, and James Delany would have been lost to the dustbin of history were it not for O’Donnell’s eye for detail and exacting research. Because of O’Donnell’s intimate work as a combat writer embedded with American forces in Iraq, his writing enjoys an air of authenticity ... the narrative pulses with a kind of violent verve. In many ways, this book is an homage to all the American servicemen who fought in the Great War. But the saga of the Unknown Soldier is represented more specifically by the stories of courage displayed by Younger and the body-bearers.
It's a gripping read about a war that many Americans know little about ... O'Donnell's focus on the Body Bearers makes The Unknowns stand out from the normal war story. He shows how their exploits brought them to the notice of Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force ... At times The Unknowns can be confusing, as there are multiple characters to follow through multiple battles and locations. But few authors have the same kind of enthusiasm and gusto that O'Donnell brings to his topic. His gift is taking the reader from the map room to the battlefield. It's an exciting, often harrowing, trip worth taking.