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Pacific News Minute: After 117 Years, U.S. Returns Three Bells Taken From The Philippines

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Raughton
U.S. Air Force

A C-130 named after General Douglas MacArthur carried a part of the Philippines’ history home this week. The United States returned three bells seized as war booty in 1901 in a ceremony broadcast live on Philippine television.

On a September morning 117 years ago, Company C of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment sat down to breakfast in the village of Balangiga, when a bell sounded the signal for attack. Filipino fighters assaulted the Americans with machetes and knives, killing 44 and wounding 22 others. It’s believed that about 25 villagers also died in the fighting.

A comparison was immediately drawn between Balangiga and Little Big Horn, 25 years earlier, and the American military response was the same; vengeance. General Jacob Smith vowed to turn Balangiga’s island, Samar into a “howling wilderness” and ordered the shooting of every male over the age of ten. 

All three bells were removed from the local church after the village was recaptured; the signal bell stayed with the 9th Infantry Regiment, most recently at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

The 11th Infantry Regiment took the other two to its base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Filipino efforts to recover the bells date back to the 1950s, but at the hand-over ceremony at Manila’s Villamor Air Force Base, U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim acknowledged that President Rodrigo Duterte forced the issue.

Credit Rabosajr / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Balangiga Massacre Monument

Demanding their return, President Duterte said the bells reminded Filipinos of their battle against U.S. colonists in the Philippine-American war that followed U.S. seizure of the archipelago in the Spanish-American War. “They are ours,” Duterte said, “They belong to the Philippines.”

President Duterte is expected to participate in the replacement of the bells later this week in Balangiga.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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