US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday formally announced the return of the “Bells of Balangiga” to the Philippines, ending a decades-long quest by Manila and closing a contentious chapter in the two countries’ shared history.
Three church bells were taken as war trophies over a century ago following gruesome clashes.
While the move is expected to bolster US-Philippines relations, it has upset some US veterans and Wyoming’s delegation to the US Congress, which opposed returning the bells that were a memorial to the 45 US soldiers who were killed during a surprise attack on Sept. 28, 1901, in the central town of Balangiga.
Two bells have been on display at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and the third is at a US Army museum in South Korea.
Mattis said the Philippines has proven itself as a great US ally in conflicts over the century since that clash. He also assured that the sacrifices of US forces would not be forgotten.
“To those who fear we lose something by returning these bells, please hear me when I say: Bells mark time, but courage is timeless,” Mattis said. “It does not fade in history’s dimly lit corridors.”
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) cheered the move.
“Today is a time of solemn remembrance as we pay tribute to all those who gave up their lives during the Filipino-American War,” the DFA said.
Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, on the other hand, issued a terse statement.
“We continue to oppose any efforts by the Administration to move the Bells to the Philippines without the support of Wyoming’s veterans community,” Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Representative Liz Cheney said in a joint statement.
All three bells will be restored and handed over to the Philippines as early as December, said Joe Felter, deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia.
The 1901 attack in Balangiga, Samar was seen as perhaps the worst routing of US soldiers since the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, also known as Custer’s Last Stand.
According to historians, one or more of the church bells were rung to signal the attack in Balangiga.
US forces took the bells after a brutal counterattack that killed anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people in the Philippines, historians say. One US general was said to have directed his troops to “make the interior of Samar a howling wilderness.”#