Au­thor sheds light on hu­man sto­ries be­hind Tomb of the Un­knowns

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JU­LIAN GRE­GO­RIO

No one can iden­tify the lost lives that Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery’s Tomb of the Un­knowns com­mem­o­rates — but now we can put eight faces to the memo­rial.

Eight ser­vice­men from World War I took part in the first burial for an un­known sol­dier, car­ry­ing the cas­ket into the mar­ble tomb, and mil­i­tary au­thor Pa­trick K. O’Don­nell has shed light on them and the memo­rial to lost lives.

“The story of the tomb has hardly ever been told,” Mr. O’Don­nell said Wed­nes­day at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. “The Un­known Sol­dier was about clo­sure for the Great War, but it was also about heal­ing in the United States.”

The Her­itage Foun­da­tion hosted Mr. O’Don­nell to dis­cuss his new­est book, “The Un­knowns: The Un­told Story of Amer­ica’s Un­known Sol­dier and WWI’s Most Dec­o­rated He­roes Who Brought Him Home.”

“His book is ex­traor­di­nar­ily grip­ping and in­for­ma­tive,” said Thomas Spoehr, direc­tor of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion Cen­ter for Na­tional De­fense.

Mr. O’Don­nell, who has penned 11 books on war his­tory, said his “cine­matic” telling of each body bearer’s story presents a broader per­spec­tive of war and sac­ri­fice via the lives of rank-and­file troops.

“The men that Gen­eral [John J.] Per­sh­ing chose to be the body bear­ers were cho­sen to tell the story of the Amer­i­can ex­pe­di­tionary forces in World War I,” Mr. O’Don­nell said. “This is not the guys that built things, this is the peo­ple that blow things up.”

“The Un­knowns” in­cludes the story of body bearer Cpl. Thomas Saun­ders, an Amer­i­can In­dian who had been given a sui­cide mis­sion — to clear the way for the infantry ad­vanc­ing be­hind him by snip­ping en­emy wires in the mid­dle of no-man’s land.

Peo­ple to­day pay more attention to World War II than World War I, Mr. O’Don­nell said.

“It’s the hun­dredth an­niver­sary and hardly any­body knows about it. It’s a for­got­ten war,” he said.

He ex­plained the ge­n­e­sis of the Un­known Sol­dier cer­e­mony, which com­mem­o­rates all uniden­ti­fied lives lost to bat­tle: Marie Meloney, editor of a 1920s women’s mag­a­zine, wrote a let­ter to the De­part­ment of War that ad­vo­cated an un­known sol­dier’s tomb.

Mr. O’Don­nell said she “lit­er­ally starts a move­ment,” and a con­gress­man re­sponded — him­self a for­mer of­fi­cer from a unit con­sist­ing mostly of black and Puerto Ri­can sol­diers. Once Congress ap­proved the tomb, Gen. Per­sh­ing chose “a grunt,” Sgt. Ed­ward Younger, to choose the anony­mous body for the Un­known’s cas­ket, he said.

“He prayed … a force he can’t ex­plain moved his hand” to­ward one of four ex­humed bod­ies, where Sgt. Younger placed white roses to in­di­cate his choice.

For his books, Mr. O’Don­nell has in­ter­viewed about 4,000 veter­ans and told their sto­ries. He said that Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery gives him a sense of each of those veter­ans’ in­di­vid­ual lives — that each plaque across the grave­yard’s fields rep­re­sents a unique story.


A mem­ber of the Old Guard guards the Tomb of the Un­knowns at the Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia. Au­thor Pa­trick K. O’Don­nell’s new book tells the hu­man story be­hind the memo­rial.

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