Following his trip to the border yesterday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis jetted up to F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming to kick off the process of returning two battle trophies to the Philippines.
The Bells of Balangiga were a sacred war trophy of the Philippine-American War, which was fought from 1899 to 1902. Known by many as the reason John Moses Browning invented the .45 ACP cartridge, the “Tagalog Insurgency” was a bloody -and often close-quarters- campaign that resulted in the deaths of around 4-6,000 Americans, 16,000 insurgents and anywhere from 250,000 to 1,000,000 Filipino civilians.
Technically, there are three Balangiga Bells- one is at 9th Infantry Regiment HQ at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea, while the other two are in Wyoming, where the 11th Infantry Regiment once resided. At least one of the bells was rung during the war, to warn American troops of a Filipino ambush.
In 1901, insurgents from the village of Balangiga (located on Samar Island) ambushed American troops as they ate breakfast, killing around 48 of the men and wounding 22, leaving only four troopers unharmed. In the end, the ambush was a Filipino victory and resulted in the capture of a substantial amount of American supplies.
In response to the attack, Brig. General Jacob H. Smith demanded a “scorched earth” retaliation.
“I want no prisoners,” he told Marine Major Littleton Waller. “I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me. The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.”
Smith ordered his men to kill every male over the age of 10 on the island.
In the end, the US forces on Samar Island did their own version of General Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” burning entire towns in an effort to decimate the population’s will to fight.
The bells were kept as war trophies in the aftermath, and as news reached the United States, General Smith was court-martialed for his savage behavior -which many consider to be a war crimes- and forced to retire.
Over the period of the war, the US was responsible for the deaths of a quarter million people in the Philippines, many civilians who succumbed to starvation or disease.
A long-standing tale of controversy, the return of the bells signifies an attempt between the United States and the Philippines to mend old wounds.
According to the Air Force Times, the American Legion was in possession of the Wyoming-based bells for some time, and have been hesitant to give them back to the Filipino people since the 1990s. However, the organization eventually broke down and passed a resolution in August to have them returned.
Yesterday, Philippine Ambassador Jose Romualdez and Defense Secretary Mattis shook hands in front of the bells, a gesture of officially presenting the war trophies to the Philippines- and hopefully ushering in another era of cooperation.
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