Face down in a field of wheat, blood leaking from both sides of his body, John Nelson waited for what remained of his life. Above him, the hot summer air was split by German machine guns and artillery fire. All around him, the future was ending for the doughboys of Company D.
Born Jon Nilsson, son of Nils Jonson (and grandson of Jon Nilsson), John Nelson emigrated from Sweden to the United States in 1911, only to be sent back to Europe six years later with America’s entry into the war. Nelson was assigned to Company D, 28th Infantry Regiment, U.S. First Division, and shipped to France. After fighting through the trenches at Cantigny, Company D was pinned down by heavy fire on the road between Paris and Soissons on July 19, 1918. Only 70 of the company’s 250 members would make it across the field where Pfc. Nelson fell, left for dead.
However, seven and a half decades remained in the life of John Nelson. Though partially disabled from his wounds, he went on to raise a family and run a paint shop on Devon Avenue in Chicago, living until the ripe old age of 101. His grandson, James Carl Nelson, inherited the story of that summer day, and set out to understand it better by searching for what else remained of the other men who tried to cross that field.
In The Remains of Company D, James Carl Nelson uncovers heartrending mysteries and legacies forgotten to all but a few. Capt. Soren C. Sorenson would receive a citation for his courage and leadership that day, but the family of Lt. Marvin Stainton would spend the last of their savings on a fruitless search for his final resting place, and the family of Pvt. Rollin Livick would never hear anything more than rumors about what became of him. In piecing together their diaries, letters, and service records, James Carl Nelson dramatically widened the scope of the story he inherited, and found his memory of his grandfather transformed – from the old man he knew as a child to the young doughboy who would rise from that bloody field and face a long, blessedly boring future.
James Carl Nelson has worked as a staff writer for the Miami Herald. He is a member of the Great War Society and the Military Writers Society of America. He lives with his wife and two sons in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
DVD 2009-10-29: James Carl Nelson
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