Family of still-missing WWII Medal of Honor recipient asks DOD to stop using his name

| January 14, 2021 | 14 Comments

First Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Nininger

Alexander “Sandy” Nininger was a 1941 graduated of West Point and was in the Philippines, assigned to the Philippine Scouts, when America was attacked by Imperial Japan. Hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, they attacked the Philippines, surprising most of the aircraft on the ground, destroying them. So began a months long valiant defense of the islands by native and American forces before they were force to retreat.

Nininger would be the US Army’s first recipient of the war to receive the Medal of Honor. The actions for which he was awarded the medal would result in his death.

Nininger’s Medal of Honor citation;

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Abucay, Bataan, Philippine Islands, on 12 January 1942. This officer, though assigned to another company not then engaged in combat, voluntarily attached himself to Company K, same regiment, while that unit was being attacked by enemy force superior in firepower. Enemy snipers in trees and foxholes had stopped a counterattack to regain part of position. In hand-to-hand fighting which followed, 2d Lt. Nininger repeatedly forced his way to and into the hostile position. Though exposed to heavy enemy fire, he continued to attack with rifle and hand grenades and succeeded in destroying several enemy groups in foxholes and enemy snipers. Although wounded 3 times, he continued his attacks until he was killed after pushing alone far within the enemy position. When his body was found after recapture of the position, 1 enemy officer and 2 enemy soldiers lay dead around him.

At the time of his death, he was hastily buried, as all of the casualties were. The exact whereabouts of his grave are unknown to this day. The family believes they have found the grave site, but have been unsuccessful in having the remains exhumed for testing. They even sued the federal government to do it three years ago (the case was dismissed).

Apparently as a form of protest for the government’s inability to locate (or assist in locating) his remains, the family has now asked the DoD to stop using his name.

From Stars and Stripes;

The descendants of World War II’s first Medal of Honor recipient are requesting the federal government remove the soldier’s name from all public buildings and installations, a move coming after what they call a decades-long “bureaucratic logjam” in bringing his remains home from the Philippines.

First Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Nininger, serving with the 57th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Scouts, died in battle on Jan. 12, 1942, near Abucay on the Bataan peninsula of Luzon Island, during the Japanese invasion.

He was given a hasty burial and subsequently became the war’s first service member to receive the Medal of Honor in the early days of the conflict when Imperial Japan invaded and occupied a huge swath of Asia.

“They needed a hero,” John Patterson, Nininger’s 84-year-old nephew, told Stars and Stripes during a phone interview Monday from his home in Rhode Island. “They needed somebody to talk about. They needed help with morale in terms of all of the disasters in the Pacific.”

Nininger’s Medal of Honor citation describes the young officer moving single-handedly against the invaders.

“Though exposed to heavy enemy fire, he continued to attack with rifle and hand grenades and succeeded in destroying several enemy groups in foxholes and enemy snipers,” the citation said.

Patterson has spent his adult life working to bring his uncle’s remains home from the Philippines, a mission he inherited from his mother — the soldier’s sister — who had taken up the work from her father.

On Tuesday — the 79th anniversary of Nininger’s death — Patterson sent a letter to Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams and other officials requesting on behalf of the family that Nininger’s name be removed from federal properties.

Nininger was a 1941 graduate of West Point, where stands the namesake Nininger Hall, among other memorials at the academy.

The family is also asking the Veterans Administration to no longer use Nininger’s name for a veterans nursing home in South Florida.

“This is not what my family wanted to do and we gave this decision a lot of thought but we no longer believe that it is appropriate for the government to use Sandy’s name to represent the highest military ideals if they aren’t willing to lift a finger to identify him,” Patterson wrote. “His case has been stuck in a bureaucratic logjam for more than 70 years and we are beyond frustrated.”

“[W]e are aware that while Sandy’s memory continues to be used to inspire future leaders, the government itself has failed miserably to live up to the ideals he exemplified in life,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for the Army secretary told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday that McCarthy was not available to comment on the letter.

Patterson spent years researching the death and burial of Nininger, reviewing early documentation and interviewing veterans with firsthand knowledge of events in January 1942.

In the 1990s, while working in the Philippines for the U.S. government, he investigated burial grounds near the battle site.

He became convinced that the remains in an unknown grave designated Manila X-1130 are those of Nininger. The U.S. government has denied Patterson’s repeated requests to exhume the remains for analysis.

In 2017, Patterson was one of seven plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to force the federal government — including the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the entity primarily tasked with identifying remains — to conduct DNA tests on sets of remains buried as “unknowns” in the Philippines.

In July 2019, the judge dismissed the case in a summary judgment for the defendants.

Both DPAA and its precursor, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, have maintained for years that a physical description of the remains documented during the years immediately after the war is not a close enough match to Nininger’s build to warrant exhumation.

This fall, Patterson took his quest for disinterment of X-1130 to Defense Department officials above the level of DPAA. He was assisted by Jed Henry, a successful MIA investigator and founder of the nonprofit PFC Lawrence Gordon Foundation.

In an email to Henry on Dec. 23, DPAA director Kelly McKeague reiterated the agency’s stance, writing that disinterring X-1130 “still cannot be validated by DPAA’s research, which, as you know, shows significant stature, ancestry, and recovery location discrepancies for the X-1130 remains to belong to First Lieutenant Nininger.”

McKeague said the agency was continuing to “actively explore” possible burial sites used by the U.S. Army in the Philippines in 1942, and DPAA’s historians had submitted six other disinterment proposals from the Manila American Cemetery “for which Mr. Patterson’s uncle is a candidate.”

Responding to McKeague, Henry wrote that conducting DNA testing on X-1130 would be a “win-win situation.”

“If DPAA is committed to living up to ‘the fullest possible accounting’ it will one day have to disinter X-1130 so why not do it while the family is alive and can pay their respects?” Henry wrote.

“If X-1130 would unfortunately turn out not to be Nininger then the DNA test can be used to identify one of his comrades.”

Patterson argues that DNA testing on X-1130 might cost a few thousand dollars, a tiny sum compared to what DPAA spends annually.

“It’s also worth noting that in the last 6 years DPAA has been appropriated more than $832 million dollars and with that money have only made 962 identification[s], which shows it’s costing more than $865,000 per identification,” Patterson wrote in his letter to defense officials.

“Sandy’s country has failed him and because of that we ask that the U.S. Government promptly begin the process of removing the name of Lt. Alexander R. Nininger Jr from all Federal facilities and cease trading on his good name and reputation,” he wrote in conclusion. “Further, if the U.S. Government is unable to find and identify the remains of Lt Nininger, please allow my family to hire our own professionals to do the job and we will cover whatever the costs may be.”

I certainly don’t begrudge the family for wanting to return their hero son home. I also cannot begrudge the DPAA for trying to do the most good with their limited resources. Their task is a massive one, and they have far too little with which to do it. Especially as we lose thousands of men and woman every day who were there when these events happened. For the life of me though, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t let the family foot the bill if they’re willing. I guess government bureaucracies gotta bureaucracy.

Category: Army, Big Pentagon, Historical, We Remember

Comments (14)

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  1. KoB says:

    This IDing should be a no brainer. If the gravesite in question is NOT the Hero in question, then it may lead to the IDing of another Hero.

    C’mon DARPA, just do it. That way the question can be put to rest. I mean, that IS your job isn’t it? To ID missing Troops?

    Use some of that gender studies money to study found Heros.

  2. Andy11M says:

    Just saw a follow up story to this in my news feed, they have agreed to test the remains to see if it is him.

  3. ChipNASA says:

    I’m conflicted here.
    I wish they would help the family more and I also wish the family wouldn’t go to this length but I get both sides.
    Jebus, Government, you can give Turkish gender confused something sexual studies bazillions (mazillions?) for stupid shit but you can’t cover this and take care of it effectively??
    Oh fucking well.
    Shakes mah damn head

  4. Ret_25X says:

    $865K per identification. That’s a lot of bureaucracy.

    Remember, the mission of DPAA is not finding and identifying remains. The mission of DPAA is to exist and fund jobs. Period.

    This is the world advocated by the Dumkopfs of the world. A world where even the most humane of work is nothing but a jobs program.

  5. gitarcarver says:

    I hate to be this blunt, but if the man were blown into minuscule pieces, if his remains were eaten by animal, or became fish food, none of that detracts from what he did.

    In short, if the remains are never found or identified, his actions and our honoring him, his service, and his sacrifice for those actions, don’t change one bit.

    We rightfully honor what he did in life, not where he is in death.

    • USMC Steve says:

      For any of you that think highly at all about DPAA or whatever they are called this week, read the book “Bones of my Grandfather”. It is written by the grandson of Lt. Bonnyman, lost on Betio, and never repatriated until Honor Flight found him despite active interference and obstruction of the DPAA.

      Not a fan of the doggies that were supposed to bring the dead on Betio back home. They failed miserably. Over half the dead were not located when they did their recovery operations. On an island smaller than Central Park.

  6. Mike Gunns says:

    > For the life of me though, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t let the family foot the bill if they’re willing. I guess government bureaucracies gotta bureaucracy. <

    I think they call that…"Sh!ting in someone else's rice bowl."

  7. PJS says:

    149 Day long campaign, 8 Dec 1941 to 6 May 1942, three Army Medal of Honors, one of them MacArthur. Doesn’t seem right.

  8. ninja says:

    Am so thankful the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has changed their minds…Sandy Nininger Jr.’s family have been thru so much and hopefully, there will finally be CLOSURE for them.

    Mason, Thank You for sharing this.

    Never Forget.

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