The bells of Balangiga
In the (believed) friendly village of Balangiga, on the morning of 28 September 1901, local Filipino insurgents fell on the regulars of C Company, 9th U.S. Infantry, during the unit’s breakfast, effectively putting most of the 78-man unit on the casualty list.
As noted by the Army’s Center for Military History in a colossal understatement, “The Army retaliated brutally, killing large numbers of civilians as well as insurgents. When American military authorities court-martialed soldiers accused of atrocities, the trials fed the flames of controversy at home.”
Brig. Gen. Jacob Hurd Smith, USA and Major Littleton Waller, USMC, both underwent separate courts-martial for their roles in the punitive campaign. At their trials, both officers maintained that they had followed orders and Waller was acquitted but Smith drummed out of the service. A veteran of the Battle of Shiloh (from which he carried a Minie ball in his hip for the rest of his life), Smith’s call to leave the area as a “howling wilderness” and effectively shoot any male older than 10 earned him the label of “The Monster” in the press of the day. Regardless, he later was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Part of Smith’s legacy was the capture or otherwise taking away of three church bells during the Samar campaign as war trophies. Today, one is at slated-for-deactivation Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu (former home of the 9th INF), while the other two are rusting away at F.E. Warren AFB (formerly Fort D.A. Russell) in Wyoming. With the only unit of the 9th, the 4th battalion, currently stateside at Fort Carson, and the Philippines increasingly vital to U.S. interests in the Far East (read = South China Sea), Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis visited Warren this week and announced the beginning of the process to return of the Bells of Balangiga to the Philippines in front of the two bells located there.
“To those who fear we lose something by returning the bells please hear me when I say the bells mark time, but courage is timeless,” said Mattis. “It does not fade in history’s dimly lit corridors nor is it forgotten in history’s compost.”
Presenting the bells supports our nation’s continued partnership with the Philippines.
“History teaches us that nations with allies thrive,” said Mattis. “It reminds us too that all wars end. By returning the Bells of Balangiga to our ally and our friend the Philippines we pick up the responsibility of our generation to deepen the respect between our people.”