Patrick K. O’Donnell / Combat Historian

 

Books by Patrick K. O’Donnell

cover of The Unkowns

THE UNKNOWNS

The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier And WWI's Most Decorated Soldiers
Who Brought Him Home

Hardcover
U.S. $27.00
ISBN: 9780802128331
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press

publishes in May 2018

 
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THE UNKNOWNS

The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier
And WWI's Most Decorated Soldiers Who Brought Him Home


Patrick K. O'Donnell, national award-winning author of Washington's Immortals, reveals the untold story behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a searing narrative that thrusts the reader into the brutal heart of combat in the Great War, into the perilous, gas-filled trenches where men fought to the death with pistols, clubs, knives, and bayonets.

When the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest in Arlington, General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in WWI, selected eight of America's most decorated, battle-hardened veterans to serve as Body Bearers. He chose them for their bravery and to tell the larger story of America's role in World War I.

For the first time, O'Donnell cinematically portrays their heroics on the battlefield one hundred years ago. The Body Bearers appropriately spanned America's service branches and specialties. Their ranks included a cowboy who relived the charge of the light brigade, an American Indian who heroically breached mountains of German barbed wire and captured more than sixty Germans, a salty New Englander who dueled a U-boat for hours in a fierce gunfight, a tough New Yorker who sacrificed his body to save his ship, and an indomitable soldier who, though blinded by gas, nevertheless overcame five machinegun nests.

Their stories slip easily into the larger narrative of America's involvement in the conflict, transporting readers into the midst of dramatic battles during 1917-18 that ultimately decided the Great War.

Celebrated military historian and bestselling author Patrick K. O'Donnell illuminates the saga behind the creation of the monument and animates the tomb by giving voice to those who served. The Unknowns recreates the moving ceremony during which it was consecrated, where the eight Body Bearers and the sargeant who chose the body to be interred, solemnly united. Brilliantly researched, vividly told, The Unknowns is a timeless tale of heeding the calls of duty, courage, and brotherhood. It humanizes the most important event of the twentieth century, WWI, which still casts a shadow upon all our lives.

Nearly all of Patrick K. O'Donnell's books are selections of the Book of the Month, History, or Military History Book Clubs.
All of his titles are audiobooks and downloadable on Audible.com or CD.
Many of O'Donnell's books have been translated into five foreign languages, including Chinese.

Reviews for The Unknowns

“Fascinating history”

“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.”

WSJ — Weekend Edition

 

The Unknowns is a gripping read that looks at the eight brave men who earned the honor of laying the nation's first unknown soldier to rest back home.”

“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.”

USA Today

 

The Unknowns Review: Fallen Sons, Unforgotten
By Matthew J. Davenport
May 24, 2018

In a grand ceremony on Nov. 11, 1920, an unknown French soldier from World War I was buried beneath the Arc de Triomphe. That same day, the British entombed their own unknown soldier with similar honors in Westminster Abbey.

Other European nations followed, but the United States, having lost 116,516 doughboys in 19 months of fighting—and with more than 2,000 unidentified Americans still buried in France—had no plans for the same.

It was not until the next month that Hamilton Fish, a New York congressman who had served in combat on the Western Front, introduced a bill providing for the repatriation of “a body of an unknown American killed on the battlefields of France, and for burial of the remains with appropriate ceremonies.” Congress passed Fish’s Public Resolution 67, and on his last day in office President Woodrow Wilson signed it.

How that decision led to the selection of one American soldier, an interment ceremony in Washington, D.C., commensurate to a state funeral, and ultimately to the honor the nation bestows upon the present-day Tomb of the Unknowns, is the fascinating history that Patrick K. O’Donnell explores in The Unknowns.

As with the French and British ceremonies, the entombment of America’s Unknown Soldier was set for the anniversary of the Armistice, in remembrance of when the world war had ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Mr. O’Donnell first reminds us of the import that the day bore for those who lived through it, particularly the soldiers. One doughboy recalled: “The thunder of the guns ceased, and the men, unable to speak, clasped hands in silence.” Another, having endured the racket of artillery explosions and machine-gun fire for months, noted that he could hear his watch ticking the seconds following 11 a.m.

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. We learn that 31-year-old First Sgt. Louis Razga was in a field hospital, recovering from a mustard-gas attack that his howitzer battery had endured just two days before. Sgt. James Dell of the 15th Field Artillery, 42, was with his battery of 75mm guns supporting the Marines in their assault on German positions across the Meuse River, a fight that had continued right up until the 11th hour. And 32-year-old James Delaney, a sailor from Boston, was in his 15th month in a prisoner-of-war camp in Brandenburg, Germany, reduced to a “walking scarecrow,” in Mr. O’Donnell’s words, by mistreatment and malnutrition.

The centerpiece of the narrative is the Unknown Soldier himself, whose identity, as The Unknowns makes clear with a thorough explanation of the random method of the soldier’s selection, will never be known. But as if to prompt the reader into coloring the mystery of the unknown with identifiable human features, Mr. O’Donnell delves into the lives of a number of men who served, including some who were commended for exceptional valor on the battlefield or the seas, and others who were drafted and served admirably but without distinction. One would have the task of making the final choice of the remains to be interred forever as the Unknown Soldier; eight were handpicked by Gen. John J. Pershing to be the “Body Bearers” who carried the coffin to its final resting place; and a few others were chosen as honorary pallbearers. Through letters and diaries and interviews, Mr. O’Donnell introduces us to each of them.

We meet 40-year-old Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson, a Marine who earned the Medal of Honor when he jumped from the safety of his foxhole near Belleau Wood in northern France and personally fought off 15 German soldiers with his rifle and bayonet. And Cpl. Thomas Saunders, an American Indian of the Cheyenne tribe who, while serving as a combat engineer, braved enemy fire to rush a château thick with Germans, clearing it room by room with just one other man and capturing more than 60 of the enemy, actions for which he earned the Distinguished Service Cross.

We meet Charles Leo O’Connor, a 31-year-old Boston native serving on the troop transport USS Mount Vernon. When a torpedo fired by a German submarine struck amidships while transporting wounded and sick back from France, O’Connor stayed below in the fire room to close watertight doors, suffering greater burns and injuries and scars than if he had immediately evacuated. And we meet Delaney, a 14-year Navy veteran commanding the 13 naval guards aboard an American oil tanker, who kept his cool during a three-hour battle with a U-boat until the engines failed and his men were out of ammunition. The German captain—who was “not in the habit of taking prisoners,” Mr. O’Donnell writes—was pressed into taking Delaney prisoner because Delaney and his men forced them to use up so much ammunition that the Germans needed “proof of the battle.”

Finally we meet Sgt. Edward Younger, who on the morning of Oct. 24, 1921, in the town hall of Châlons-sur-Marne, France, was given the honor of selecting the Unknown Soldier from four caskets of unidentified remains recently exhumed from American cemeteries in France. “I had gone over the top many times, had known the agony of waiting for the charge,” the twice-wounded combat veteran later recounted. But he felt almost “paralyzed” as he selected the remains by placing white roses on one flag-draped casket.

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.

The body chosen by Sgt. Younger was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on Armistice Day 1921. After the ceremony, Gen. James Harbord, who had commanded thousands of American soldiers and Marines in combat, remarked: “Whether an anonymous hero who died, we know not how, is more fitting for commemoration than those whose names we have and whose gallant deaths we can describe, may be a question.”

Mr. O’Donnell does not press to answer Harbord’s question, accepting that regardless of age or motive or manner of death, the deeds of the “anonymous hero” merit a nation’s gratitude. And by revealing the stories of those whose names and deeds we do know, The Unknowns prods our consciences to heap fresh honor upon the Unknown Soldier of World War I, renewing his station as the mortal embodiment of every American who has fallen on a battlefield far from home.

Matthew Davenport, author of First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America’s First Battle of World War I.


 

“Acclaimed military historian O’Donnell brings to life America’s involvement in the Great War through the stories of eight body bearers for an unidentified fallen soldier . . . O’Donnell does his subject justice, beginning with the book’s inspiration, his giving Marines a tour of the battlefields in France . . . A thrilling title for readers interested in WWI, and an excellent primer for understanding the full significance of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

Booklist



 “The Unknowns is a great book on the topic that surrounds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War. It’s also a good single volume work on the American Expeditionary Force’s involvement and experiences in the First World War . . . Engaging, informative, detailed, exciting, respectful, and at a patriotic level, unifying.”

David Retherford, Strategy Bridge



The Unknowns is a dramatic and compassionately written book by one of our finest military historians who has few equals as a great storyteller. Patrick K. O’Donnell’s superb tale of World War I and the exceptional valor of the eight men later chosen to escort the Unknown Soldier from France to America’s most hallowed place of honor in Arlington National Cemetery is not only a tribute to those who fought and sacrificed so much but also a vivid and timely reminder of the terrible cost of war.”

Carlo D’Este, author of Patton, A Genius for War and Eisenhower, A Soldier’s Life



“This unknown story of extraordinary sacrifice and heroism is a powerful and timely tribute to the Americans who fought a century ago in the First World War. Superb history brilliantly told.”

Alex Kershaw, author of The Longest Winter



The Unknowns is not only the story of the Unknown Soldier but that of the unknown comrades who carried him there. Their stories of courage in deadly combat are finally made known to the rest of us in searing detail.”

Glenn F. Williams, PhD, U.S. Army Center of Military History



“Brilliant in conception and style, The Unknowns presents the awe-inspiring and profoundly moving story of The Great War from the viewpoint of the men who fought, sacrificed and bled to win it. A ‘must read,’ an incredible story related by a master storyteller!”

James Lacey, author of Pershing and the forthcoming The Washington War, director of USMC University



“Very few historians can bring our military past to life like Patrick O’Donnell. The Unknowns shines new and welcome light on the ‘forgotten generation’ of Americans who fought World War One. Throughout these well written, absorbing, moving pages, we come to know the doughboys and sailors of the Great War like never before. Read this book and you will never think of the Unknown Soldier the same way again.”

John C. McManus, Ph.D., author of The Dead and Those About to Die and Deadly Sky



“Highly readable and extremely interesting, The Unknowns is more than just an account about the American servicemen who escorted the Unknown Soldier, it also encompasses the story of American involvement and the sacrifice of young Americans in the Great War. It is a masterful tour de force of that by-gone era.”

Col. Richard Camp, author of The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood: U.S. Marines in World War I



“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it’s as hallowed as ground can get. But what’s the story of the hero inside? A breakthrough book with a crackling narrative, The Unknowns reveals how the first unknown soldier came home from World War I, a journey born in the shell holes and on the high seas of one of humanity’s ghastliest wars. Prepare to discover an iconic American saga long hidden in plain sight.”

Adam Makos, New York Times bestselling author of A Higher Call

 

Gripping . . . O’Donnell, whose previous books include the terrific Washington’s Immortals and We Were One, is a masterful storyteller. In his capable hands, the stories of each of the body bearers come alive despite the passing of nearly a century.”

James Scott, Post and Courier

 

“True to form, military and combat historian Patrick K. O’Donnell, in The Unknowns, has unearthed the stirring story of World War I’s Unknown Soldier. Rather than present a simple tale of the chosen body’s selection, process, though, O’Donnell peels back multiple layers of WWI, shining the light on a larger cast of characters who participated in the return of the unidentified remains to American soil . . . The mastery of O’Donnell’s writing is that he can bring together myriad themes and make them work together . . . [Adds] immeasurably to the growing literature of the American role in World War I. It is a simultaneously riveting and soulful work that should not be missed.”

James A. Percoco, Washington Independent Review of Books

 

“While one could never begin to include all the stories of heroism, duty, and self-sacrifice that transpired during the ‘war to end all wars,’ O’Donnell has managed to capture some of the most poignant and meaningful . . . As he probes deeply into the horrors of war, O’Donnell displays a unique talent for weaving in many other names of persons who are well-known and will play significant roles in military affairs . . . A superb work on the topic that surrounds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

Leatherneck Magazine

 

“Many of the topics on which [O’Donnell] writes involve the story behind the story . . . With the centennial of America’s participation in World War I ongoing, this is a highly relevant publication . . . Conveys the reverence and honor which is deserved from the citizens of this nation to all of those who go in harm’s way to protect us and guarantee our rights and freedoms.”

New York Journal of Books



“a gripping story told by ... one of the best military historians of his generation.

Washington Times

 


cover of Washington's Immortals
Hardcover
Published by
Atlantic Monthly Press
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Washington's Immortals
The Untold Story of An Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution

In August 1776 little over a month after the Continental Congress had formally declared independence from Britain the revolution was on the verge of a sudden and disastrous end General George Washington found his troops outmanned and outmaneuvered at the Battle of Brooklyn and it looked like there was no escape. But thanks to a series of desperate rear guard attacks by a single heroic regiment famously known as the Immortal 400, Washington was able to evacuate his men and the nascent Continental Army lived to fight another day.

Today only a modest rusted and scarred metal sign near a dilapidated auto garage marks the mass grave where the bodies of the Maryland Heroes lie, 256 men who fell in the Battle of Brooklyn. In Washington's Immortals best-selling military historian Patrick K O Donnell brings to life the forgotten story of this remarkable band of brother. Known as gentlemen of honour, family, and fortune, they fought not just in Brooklyn but in key battles including Trenton, Princeton, Camden Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown where their heroism changed the course of the war.

Drawing on extensive original sources, from letters to diaries to pension applications, O' Donnell pieces together the stories of these brave men—their friendships, loves, defeats, and triumphs. He explores their arms and tactics, their struggles with hostile loyalists and shortages of clothing and food, their development into an elite unit, and their dogged opponents including British General Lord Cornwallis. And, through the prism of this one group, O'Donnell tells the larger story of the Revolutionary War. Washington's Immortals is gripping and inspiring boots on the ground history sure to appeal to a wide readership.

· Praise for Washington's Immortals »

cover of First SEALs
Hardcover
Published by
Da Capo Press
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First SEALs
The Untold Story of the Forging
of America's Most Elite Unit

Beginning in the summer of 1942, an extraordinary group of men—among them a dentist, a Hollywood movie star, an archaeologist, California surfers, and even former enemies of the Allies—united to form an exceptional unit that would forge the capabilities of the Navy’s Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) Teams.

Known as the Maritime Unit, it comprised America’s first swimmer-commandos, an elite breed of warrior-spies who were decades ahead of their time when they created the tactics, technology, and philosophy that inspire today’s Navy SEALs.

The pioneering men of the Maritime Unit conducted some of the most daring operations behind enemy lines and even survived one of the Third Reich’s infamous concentration camps. But after the war, their astonishing record of activity and achievement was classified, lost, and largely forgotten ... until now.

In First SEALs, Patrick K. O’Donnell unearths their incredible history—one of the greatest untold stories of World War II.

Give Me Tomorrow
Hardcover
Published by
Da Capo Press
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Give Me Tomorrow
The Korean War's Greatest Untold Story—The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company

An epic story of valor and sacrifice by a legendary Marine company in the Korean War brought to gripping, cinematic light by an acclaimed historian.

“What would you want if you could have any wish?” asked the photojournalist, looking expectantly at the haggard and bloodied Marine before him. The Marine gaped back incredulously at his interviewer.

“Give me tomorrow,” he said, as the photographer snapped one of the most iconic pictures of the Korean War.

After nearly four months of continuous and agonizing combat on the battlefields of Korea, such a desperate yet simple request seemed impossible, and for many men of George Company, or “Bloody George” as they were known—one of the Forgotten War’s most decorated yet unrecognized companies—it was a wish that would not come true.

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Paperback
Published by
Da Capo Press
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Dog Company
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc—
the Rangers Who Accomplished
D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way across Europe

An epic World War II story of valor, sacrifice, and the Rangers who led the way to victory in Europe.

It is said that the right man in the right place at the right time can make the difference between victory and defeat. This is the dramatic story of sixty-eight soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion, D Company—Dog Company—who made that difference, time and again.

The book spans from D-Day, when German guns atop Pointe du Hoc threatened the Allied landings and the men of Dog Company scaled the ninety-foot cliffs to destroy them, to the thickly forested slopes of Hill 400, in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest, where the Rangers launched a desperate bayonet charge across an open field, captured the crucial hill, and held it against all odds. In each battle, the men of Dog Company made the difference.

Dog Company is their unforgettable story—thoroughly researched and vividly told by acclaimed combat historian Patrick K. O’Donnell—a story of extraordinary bravery, courage, and determination. America had many heroes in World War II, but few can say that, but for them, the course of the war may have been very different. The right men, in the right place, at the right time—Dog Company.

The Brenner Assignment
Paperback
Published by
Da Capo Press
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The Brenner Assignment
The Untold Story
of the Most Daring Spy Mission
of World War II

“Military historian O'Donnell (We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah) brings a cinematic style and considerable expertise to this engrossing tale of a behind-enemy-lines mission during the last year of WWII.

“Conducted by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor to the modern CIA), the plan was to cut ‘a carotid artery of the Third Reich,’ the infamous Brenner Pass through the mountains between Austria and Italy, leaving the German army in Southern Italy isolated.

“Arguably one of the war's most dangerous operations, it was led two OSS operatives who never met: Stephen Hall, a combat engineer trained in demolitions, who conceived and sold the plan (and himself) to the newly formed OSS; and Howard Chappell, a Fort Benning paratroop trainer recruited by the OSS to train the team of  ‘shadow soldiers’ who would infiltrate Nazi Germany under Hall's command.

Publisher’s Weekly

They Dared Return
Paperback
Published by
Da Capo Press
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They Dared Return
The True Story of Jewish Spies
Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany

•  “The Real Inglorious Bastards”

At the height of World War II, with the Third Reich’s Final Solution in full operation, a small group of Jews who had barely escaped the Nazis did the unthinkable: they went back.

Spies now, these Americans took on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. This is their story, a tale of adventure, espionage, love, and revenge.

The men are given a treacherous covert mission behind enemy lines and deep inside the heavily fortified area of Austria’s “Alpine Redoubt,” where Hitler planned to make his last stand. Capture would mean almost certain death; success, a swift end to the war.

They Dared Return is a great World War II story of derring-do—a cinematic World War II drama, filled with an unforgettable cast of characters and packed with action, suspense, and intrigue.

Beyond Valor
Various Editions available
Published by Free Press
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Beyond Valor
World War II's Ranger and Airborne Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat

Previous books have promised to describe the combat experience of the World War II GI, but there has never been a book like Patrick O'Donnell's Beyond Valor.

Here is the first combat history of the war in Europe in the words of the men themselves, and perhaps the most honest and brutal account of combat possible on the printed page.

For more than fifty years the individual stories that make up this narrative -- shockingly frank reflections of sacrifice and courage -- have been bottled up, buried, or circulated privately. Now, nearing the ends of their lives, our WWII soldiers have at last unburdened themselves. Beyond Valor recaptures their hidden history.

A pioneering oral historian, Patrick O'Donnell used his award-winning website, The Drop Zone, to solicit oral- and "e-histories" from individual soldiers. Gradually, working from within the community, O'Donnell convinced some of the war's most battle-hardened soldiers to tell their stories. The result is WWII seen through the eyes of the men who saw the most intense of its action.

We Were One
Paperback
Published by
Da Capo Press
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We Were One
Shoulder to Shoulder with
the Marines Who Took Fallujah

The Marines of the 1st Platoon (part of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment) were among the first to fight in Fallujah, and they bore the brunt of this epic battle. When it was over, the platoon had suffered thirty-five casualties, including four dead. This is their story.

Award-winning author and historian Patrick O’Donnell stood shoulder-to-shoulder with this modern band of brothers as they marched and fought through the streets of Fallujah, and he stayed with them as the casualties mounted. O’Donnell captures not only the sights, sounds, and smells of the gritty street combat, but also the human drama of young men in a close-knit platoon fighting for their lives—and the lives of their buddies.

We Were One chronicles the 1st Platoon’s story, from its formation at Camp Pendleton in California to its near destruction in the smoldering ruins of Fallujah.

Review from U.S. Army Command and General Staff College »

Into the Rising Sun
Various Editions available
Published by Free Press
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Into the Rising Sun
World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat

In his award-winning book Beyond Valor, Patrick O’Donnell reveals the true nature of the European Theater in World War II, as told by those who survived. Now, with Into the Rising Sun, O’Donnell tells the story of the brutal Pacific War, based on hundreds of interviews spanning a decade.

The men who fought their way across the Pacific during World War II had to possess something more than just courage. They faced a cruel, fanatical enemy in the Japanese, an enemy willing to use anything for victory, from kamikaze flights to human-guided torpedoes. Over the course of the war, Marines, paratroopers, and rangers spearheaded D-Day–sized beach assaults, encountered cannibalism, suffered friendly-fire incidents, and endured torture as prisoners of war. Though they are truly heroes, they claim no glory for themselves. As one soldier put it, "When somebody gets decorated, it’s because a lot of other men died."

By at last telling their stories, these men present a hard, unvarnished look at the war on the ground, a final gift from aging warriors who have already given so much. Only with these accounts can the true horror of the war in the Pacific be fully known. Together with detailed maps of each battle, Into the Rising Sun offers a complete yet deeply personal account of the war in the Pacific and a ground-level view of some of history’s most brutal combat.

Oberatives, Spies, and Saboteurs
Various Editions available
Published by Citadel
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Operatives, Spies,
and Saboteurs

The Unknown Story
of World War II's OSS

Patrick O'Donnell has tracked down and interviewed more than 300 elite and mysterious former OSS (Office of Strategic Services) members and, for the first time, relates their incredible true stories of World War II—stories that may read like the best spy novels but are shockingly true.

Copyright © Patrick K. O'Donnell