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Judge dismisses lawsuit aimed at recovering remains of Medal of Honor winner with RI connection

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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Despite a major legal setback in a federal lawsuit, former state Rep. John Patterson is no less determined to convince the federal government to bring his heroic uncle home.

Judge Xavier Rodriquez of the Western District of Texas in San Antonio dismissed the 2017 lawsuit filed by Patterson and six other descendants of seven World War II soldiers buried as “unknowns” in the Philippines.

“We’re all digesting the order and I will ask questions to our attorneys once I read it,” Patterson said. “But no matter what, I will say this: I am not giving up.”

Patterson’s uncle, 1st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Nininger, was the first Medal of Honor recipient of World War II and described as a “one-man army” after he was killed in a 1942 battle in the Philippines shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Men fell around him on both sides to sniper, machine gun and artillery fire,” a museum entry in Nininger’s home state of Florida reads. “Yet Nininger carried on, shooting snipers out of trees and tossing grenades into Japanese foxholes as he relentlessly advanced forward.”

Proving where Nininger was buried in the Manilla American cemetery has been a Patterson family passion since his death, with the soldier’s Rhode Island nephew tracking down documents since the 1960s.

“My mother [Sandy’s sister] asked me to keep it going,” Patterson said.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which is named in the lawsuit, has denied five official requests from Patterson’s family to recover Nininger.

Patterson said he has provided reams of documents that he claims showed the DPAA where his uncle is now buried.

In his words, “ego, incompetence, unprofessionalism, and bureaucracy” have all played a role in the DPAA denials.

In his decision, Rodriguez called the evidence provided by Patterson and the other plaintiffs “circumstantial” and not enough to rule against the defense motion to dismiss.

“Plaintiffs allege that the remains have been identified based on circumstantial, contemporary evidence from wartime records,” Rodriguez wrote.

It was not enough for Rodriguez to keep the lawsuit and the descendants’ claims alive.

Patterson said an appeal is possible but even without more court filings, he insisted he will not give up.

“I will bug the hell out of them,” Patterson said.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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