Alexander Nininger’s family sues to bring him home

| December 5, 2017 | 13 Comments

Lieutenant Alexander Nininger earned the Medal of Honor in the last few moments of his life assigned to the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, near Abucay, Bataan in the Philippines on January 12th, 1942. His citation reads;

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 handgrenades 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.

He was the first soldier awarded the Medal of Honor in World War Two. His earthly remains were hurriedly deposited in a grave and his family want his remains identified and sent home. The New York Times reported a few months ago that they are willing to sue the government for that to happen. They’ve given DNA samples towards that end, but the government hasn’t budged;

In the decades since, he has been venerated with a statue, an annual award at West Point and even a Malcolm Gladwell treatise on human potential. But his body has not been found. The Army officially lists him as “nonrecoverable.”

His family disagrees. It says the lieutenant’s bones rest in grave J-7-20 at the American Cemetery in Manila. For 70 years, the family has been pressing the military to identify the remains and bring the fallen lieutenant home.

Category: We Remember

Comments (13)

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  1. NHSparky says:

    I’m torn on this. On the one hand, the family has a right to have their loved ones interred where they wish.

    On the other hand, there are tens of thousands (if not more) of our fallen buried in cemeteries throughout the battlefields of the last two centuries.

    Frankly, if they want him brought home, fine–but they should do it on their dime, not the government’s.

    YMMV.

    • Sparks says:

      I have to agree NHSparky. While I hold this LT in the highest regard, his loss is no greater than any other soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman, who lies in the grave of a foreign cemetery with but a Purple Heart Medal.

    • Graybeard says:

      I believe part of the issue is doing the DNA analysis to confirm that the remains in that grave actually are those of 2d Lt. Nininger.

      I do not know why there is a problem with doing this – and that may be the real question here. What was the reasoning behind listing his remains as “nonrecoverable”? If the remains in grave J-7-20 are not those of 2nd Lt. Nininger, would the family be willing to pay for the exhumation and DNA testing on what could turn out to be hundreds of remains in the cemetery in order to find his remains?

      There is, IMHO, more to the story that we are seeing here.

    • Thunderstixx says:

      Even General George Patton was buried in a foreign cemetery.
      May he and all of them in those far off lands rest in peace.

  2. Ex-PH2 says:

    I’m torn, too. If they want him brought home, fine. But what about all those troops who died on the Bataan march? And what about pilots whose planes crashed flying the Hump to get supplies to the troops in China? They are slowly being found, but it’s at the expense of the discovery groups which are not government-sponsored.

    If they want him brought home, fine with me, but considering everything, I think they should pay for it.

  3. USAFRetired says:

    NHSparky

    I have to disagree with you on this. At the end of the war families were given the option to have their loved ones remains repatriated to the states for burial. Those who chose that option had the remains exhumed and shipped home at Govt expense. I don’t see this as any different.

    The Manila American Cemetery has the most burials outside the US of our war dead. It includes remains from not just the Philippines but other battlefields in the Pacific as well.
    The hemicycle there includes names of the missing, buried at sea, etc.

    We couldn’t make it for Memorial Day 2014 when last we visited the Philippines, but I did get my kids there on June 6 2014 where we paid our respects in general and then went and looked up the specific graves of a couple of alumni from my college who are buried there.

  4. gitarcarver says:

    It should be noted that the complaint on this is for other members of the military as well.

    The families of Brig. Gen. Guy O. Fort, Pvt. David Hansen, Pvt. Arthur Kelder, Technician Lloyd Bruntmyer, and Col. Loren Stewart are named in the complaint as well and are seeking the return of the remains of their loved ones.

    Also from the article is this:

    The target of the suit is the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency, an arm of the Pentagon with a $115 million annual budget that is tasked with accounting for the roughly 45,000 recoverable lost service members dating back to World War II. For years, the agency and a group of agencies that preceded it have been plagued by reports of waste and dysfunction.

    Despite its hefty budget, the recovery effort has averaged fewer than 90 bodies annually in the past five years. Congress, frustrated by the low numbers, mandated that the agency increase the number to at least 200 per year by 2015, but it has yet to meet that total.

    To me, that puts a different spin on who should be paying for the dis-interment and the costs of testing. The money is already allocated.

    Finally, and this is almost an unanswerable question, I have to wonder whether these men would rather be interred with their military brothers – those they fought and died with – or their biological families.

    The reason I ask that is I had two uncles that fell in WWII. Both men had written home about the dangers they faced and dying. One wrote in a letter that he felt such a kin with his fellow soldiers that if he died, he wanted to be buried with them. The other wrote that if he was killed, he hoped he could get back home to the land of his birth and lie amongst his family.

  5. Pinto Nag says:

    I am concerned that his family has turned the retrieval of his remains into some kind of quest. So, they do actually get him back. And he probably goes to Arlington with honors. And then?

  6. PJS says:

    Interesting that this springs from the Philippine Campaign 1942; I’ve always gotten the impression that the survivors, and families of the lost felt that their sacrifices were undervalued.
    The recent movement to upgrade awards to the Medal of Honor, (in one case reaching back to Gettysburg) never found any actions worthy of upgrade. I may be wrong, but I believe there were only 5 MOH’s awarded for actions during the six months of combat; 1LT Nininger, 1LT Bianchi, SGT Calugas, LTG Wainwright, and MacArthur.

  7. OldSoldier54 says:

    Is there more than one body in grave J-7-20? If it is allegedly the remains of one individual, what is the problem? Testing will either say yes, or no.

    As for, “For years, the agency and a group of agencies that preceded it have been plagued by reports of waste and dysfunction.” … well, color me shocked …

    Admin is probably burning through a lot of that $115 Mil with debauched “seminars” involving finest kind drugs, alcohol, and $2k/hr escorts.

  8. Just An Old Dog says:

    It seems like a simple thing to fucking figure out. Do for the family what they deserve. Examine the remains in the grave or give overwhelming evidence that supports that the Lt is not the one there.
    Once (If) he is identified bring him back and inter him with full military honors as the family asks.
    If for some weird ass reason other family members before waived the right to bring him home, still identify the remains and work with the family to get him back.

    • Eden says:

      Makes sense to me. Add to that the fact that he is a Medal of Honor awardee, which it seems to me should put him on high priority to be identified, recovered, and returned to his family.

  9. Justwondering says:

    “moe note:

    it appears, at times, there might be two (2) Rule Books utilized in the mission of accounting for our MIAs. The Rule Book for Them, and the Rule Book for Everyone Else.

    In this story that Mary has provided, a family who brings a request for disinterment of an UNKNOWN grave because of the results of their, Not the DPAA, extensive research indicates that there is a chance of identifying the remains is denied in Court due to a “technicality’ the USG/DoD/DPAA said existed in the legal suit.

    We wonder what the difference in expense would be if they just disinterred the remains – took a sample – did a DNA (nuclear) test and revealed the results compared to the fees – attorney and court cost – that has now been expensed. FYI- The judge in the case is giving the family the right to re-write and re-submit the case, so the expenses continues and NO Identification has been made.

    The current Agency, DPAA, is still NOT able to satisfy a Congressional mandate of 200 identifications (minimum) per year that was effective starting in 2015. Logic dictates that every effort should be in play to identify as many as possible, not paying attorneys to find a technical reason not to do the job the people are paying for.

    We wonder if there is a ‘technicality’ involved that is keeping Congress from holding the DoD/DPAA accountable to their job performance?”
    Honor, Release, Return Inc.

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