For more than 70 years, the family of 2nd Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Nininger Jr., who died when he charged alone into a group of Japanese invaders near Abucay, Bataan in 1942, have been trying to get him home.
It may take a Minnesota native to do it.
Nininger is at the heart of the latest battle between the military and families of fallen soldiers who have had to turn to people like Ben Letendre, a lawyer and former Marine, to get the government to exhume remains and use DNA testing to see if they’re of a missing soldier.
Nininger wasn’t just anybody; he’s the first receipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II.
Letendre, a Rochester, Minn., native who now lives in Baraboo, Wis., filed suit in federal court yesterday on behalf of Nininger’s family, Stars and Stripes reports today.
“They have to undertake diligent efforts to identify and repatriate the remains of fallen servicemembers, and they’re also required by statute to communicate with the families,” Letendre says of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. “And as far as I can tell, that’s just not happening.”
This is a problem that was supposed to have been solved after NPR and ProPublica’s 2014 investigation which showed that the process of identifying war dead “had been mired in bureaucracy, turf and an aversion to risk, betraying the families of soldiers who were killed.”
The Pentagon had assured Congress, which looked into the problem, that they would streamline the process by eliminating the two agencies responsible and starting a new one.
Stars and Stripes says none of the bureaucrats who stymied families were fired, although a few were reassigned.
“I don’t think much has changed at all,” Letendresaid of post-reorganization DPAA. “This is a really pervasive problem. I don’t want to ascribe any ill will towards the government; I think it’s more incompetence and inefficiency,” he said. “But there’s something broken.”
He’s hoping his lawsuit will motivate politicians to demand more of the military effort.
Related: Pvt. Sersha returns from war, 72 years later (NewsCut)