FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – It’s a South Florida story of heroism, history and determination. A young man from Fort Lauderdale, goes off to war and dies in combat. His family was never able to have a proper burial.
The Army said his remains cannot be identified but for years now, Sandy Nininger’s nephew has been trying to convince the Army they are wrong.
“He’s a local hero,” said Nininger’s nephew John Patterson.
Alexander Nininger’s journey began in 1937 as a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High School.
Sandy, as he was known, would then go to West Point and eventually, this South Florida boy would be sent to the South Pacific, finding himself in the thick of the Battle of Bataan.
“Another group of soldiers were being overrun so he ran off to help them and the Japanese had snipers and they were picking them off and he, by himself, got up and ran head first into the fire,” said John Bloom, Director of the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum. “Apparently he killed about 40 Japanese.”
He went on, “Unbelievable. Incredible. Incredible bravery.”
“He was wounded three times. He was a very mild mannered guy, but apparently it was like flipping a switch and he became a warrior,” said Patterson.
Nininger was killed but for his bravery, he was awarded the first Medal of Honor in World War II.
“For his ‘gallantry’ as the Army put it, above and beyond the call of duty,” said Patterson.
When it came to returning Nininger’s remains to his family back home in Fort Lauderdale, the army listed him as “non-recoverable.”
For the last 70 years, his family has been pleading with the U.S. Army to bring Sandy Nininger home.
“This is in honor of him,” said Patterson. “Some in my family think it’s an obsession. I want to keep his memory alive.”
Patterson leads the effort now. He has sent the Defense Department maps and first-hand accounts, from men who served with his uncle. Patterson wants the remains from a grave site of “unknowns” in Manila interred and tested for DNA.
The Pentagon has repeatedly said no, writing to Patterson:
“For individual unknowns there must be at least a 50 percent likelihood that an ID will be made. After receiving info provided, I’m not convinced that that standard has been met.”
“Frustrated enough to join this lawsuit as a last resort,” said Patterson.
Sandy Nininger’s family has joined six others, suing the Defense Department to compel it to identify the bodies.
“You’d think they’d want to get me out of their hair because I don’t give up,” said Patterson.
Just like his legendary uncle, Fort Lauderdale’s own Sandy Nininger, who also did not give up.
Nininger’s legacy is alive and well South Florida. A street, a park and a nursing home are all named after him.
CBS4’s Rick Folbaum reached out to the Defense Department, asking for comment on the lawsuit. No one responded to their requests.