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Feds to disinter WWII ‘unknowns,’ but not Medal of Honor recipient with RI ties

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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – A federal agency has agreed to disinter two World War II graves referenced in a lawsuit, but a Rhode Island plaintiff in the case remains frustrated his loved one’s final resting place is still in contention. 

John Patterson’s uncle, Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Nininger, was the first World War II Medal of Honor recipient who was described as a “one-man army” during a furious 1942 battle in the Philippines.

But more than seven decades later his remains are still unrecovered, despite a tireless effort by Patterson and his family to document where Nininger is buried.

In recent filings tied to the lawsuit that was filed last May, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) agreed to disinter several graves – including 704 and 822 in the Manila American Cemetery – that are cited in a lawsuit filed by Patterson and six others last May.

The graves may hold as many as 15 unknown soldiers, but there is no time frame for when the DPAA will try to recover the remains and potentially use DNA to identify them

Patterson started tracking down documents connected to his uncle’s remains in the 1960’s. 

“It’s hard to be optimistic regarding our government’s failure to carry out its mandate to bring my uncle’s remains home along with all the others who died in service to our country,” Patterson said. “My family and I will never give up.”

Another source close to the case who asked to not be identified said the government is “terrified” of the Nininger case due to his legendary heroics. 

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

Patterson, who is a former state representative, said the slow-moving lawsuit is not a shock. His family’s previous five requests to DPAA to recover Nininger have been denied. 

“Disappointment is a huge understatement,” Patterson said. “Disgust is more like it but not surprising after all these years.” 

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

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