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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / May 31, 2001

Page 7 of 7

Continued from page 6

At least a dozen states have tried to propose a law modeled after one that was successfully enacted in California two years ago, but in each case the effort died because of the treaty. And even in California, courts have the final say. A district judge in San Francisco this year threw out a class action suit filed on behalf of POWs against Mitsui, Mitsubishi Corp., Nippon Steel, and other Japanese industrial giants.

After that decision, a group of congressmen introduced a bill in the House that would require federal courts to allow POWs to sue without the 1951 treaty being a barrier. But the Bush administration recently signaled its opposition to such a stance, issuing a statement that even Korean women enslaved as rape machines can't sue Japan once they've become Americans.

Still, former state Senator Patterson hasn't given up reworking his legislation in Rhode Island, a state whose famous native son, Commodore Matthew Perry, journeyed to Japan in 1853 and opened a sealed society to the world, altering history in the process.

If that isn't enough to keep the issue alive, there's always the ghost of his mother's brother, Uncle Alexander Nininger, a West Point graduate who was just 23 when he broke from his regiment in January of 1942 to hook up with one getting clobbered in combat.

The US Military Academy's history of the man says the sight of a single soldier storming through an advancing enemy and taking out a small army with seemingly superhuman intensity inspired his unit to plunge through the swath that Nininger had cut. His comrades caught up with him deep in what had been unreachable territory.

Nininger was mortally wounded, sprawled next to the bodies of an enemy officer and two enlisted men, the last foes he'd killed before laying down to die in honor and glory. The GIs who stood over Patterson's uncle were destined for a less mythic fate.

''My mother says her brother was probably better off dying than facing what happened to those who lived,'' the senator said.

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