Patrick K. O'Donnell / Combat Historian


Praise for The Unknowns

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

cover of 'The Unknowns'

National Bestseller

Patrick K. O'Donnell, national award-winning, best-selling 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.

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 appeared Nationwide on NPR


THE UNKNOWNS  has been reviewed nationwide on ABC’s John Batchelor Show Show, Lars Larson, Sirius XM Radio and scores of other shows:


THE UNKNOWNS  was reviewed on C-SPAN American History TV

“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.”


 “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


Copyright © Patrick K. O'Donnell