Journalist Nelson mines his grandfather’s wartime experience in an attempt to shed light on what became of his company during their time “over there.”
The author’s mission to unearth the past reflects the efforts of thousands of American families to literally dig up the remains of lost sons and bring them home, or, at the very least, find closure and relief from the emotional roller-coaster ride that comes with a soldier being tagged “missing.” As Nelson demonstrates in his thorough, diligent narrative, many families were denied even this paltry comfort. Younger brothers traveled to the fields of Cantigny and Soissons to search, mostly in vain, for mass graves or even just rings and dog-tags. Mothers and fathers were forced to endure the pain of simply not knowing, like the parents of the missing Rollin Livick, who suffered hallucinations of their beloved son walking down the street while they awaited word about his fate. In many ways, Nelson’s choice of the word “remains” in the title is indicative of his larger theme—a search for the mark of the Great War on the American consciousness, be it through letters, memories, family history or a grave. As he follows the men of Company D, the author maintains a quick pace and provides evocative imagery. Drawing heavily on the company’s letters and diaries, Nelson occasionally loses the voices and personalities of these men amid the larger story arc. However, the author does an excellent job honoring the specific American experience in WWI—from immigrant diasporas to the shattered illusions of a quick campaign—and the lives of an extraordinary group of men.
A personal, moving journey that will be a welcome addition to any military-history shelf.