On this Memorial Day, imagine this. It’s late in the year 2007. A company of Connecticut Army National Guard troops are stationed somewhere in Iraq, let’s say a small village called Daskara Nahr. This village, once a hotbed of Islamic extremist activity, has been pacified and is now considered a model converted territory run by a trusted village chieftain allegedly known to be cooperative and friendly with the coalition troops assigned to stand guard duty and supervise the “Democratization program.”
On a routine day, say, on Sept. 28, just minutes before the Islamic Friday afternoon prayer service, as the imam’s voice is heard bellowing from the mosque’s minaret to call the faithful to prayer, a burst of gunfire explodes from the tower signaling an all-village attack on the U.S. troops who are fortuitously led by one of the few American Muslim graduates of West Point, 1st Lieutenant Khalid Samaa. Of the 78 American troops, all are killed except for four enlisted men who were driving back to the village from a patrol nearby and escaped certain death.
A week later, a larger U.S.-led coalition military force returns to Daskara Nahr to bomb and burn down the village to a pile of rubble and take the fallen minaret back to Hartford to be erected as a Veterans’ Memorial to Connecticut’s war dead.
Additionally, the Connecticut U.S. senators will file and pass legislation to block any possibility of returning the minaret to the village of Daskara Nahr, forever, in a new bill called the Protection of Veterans’ Memorials Act of 2007.
On Memorial Day, would this fictional scenario be a shining example of our American values, and would it be a much vaunted American military tradition to desecrate any house of worship by grabbing religious articles as war prize/booty during operations in foreign, occupied lands? Would we be capable of this level of insensitivity and callous acts of religious desecration in a show of American Patriotism?
Well, truthfully and sadly, we are. Or more precisely, we were capable of it 117 years ago. Yet, to this day, on another Memorial Day, as a nation, we still cannot bring ourselves to right this type of wrong.
It happened. It was not in Iraq, but in the Philippines. Not during our current global war on terror, but in 1901. Not with Islam, but with Roman Catholicism. Not Hartford, but Cheyenne, Wyoming. Not with an American Muslim, West Point grad, but an American Roman Catholic, West Point grad, Captain Thomas W. Connell. A minaret was not taken, but three Franciscan Church bells were. For over 117 years, those Filipino Catholic Church bells, still in American military hands today, have been silenced to call the Catholic parishioners of Balangiga, Samar to prayer, for Sunday Mass, for baptisms, for weddings, for funerals, for festivals, for harvest, for the daily Angelus, for Christmas, for New Year’s eve.
On this Memorial Day, no fallen U.S. military veteran would want to be remembered and memorialized by the obscene, warped and perverted sense of national pride at the expense of innocent peoples’ religious artifacts from around the world as promoted by local ethnocentric American politicians and hyper-nationalist activists.
On this Memorial Day, every fallen American veteran should be remembered with honor and pride, and not at the expense of other conquered, innocent faithful’s Catholic Church bells.
On this Memorial Day, the Bells of Balangiga is a continuing American story of shame and false pride because of local political stubbornness and national inaction, while a small, humble Filipino Catholic parish on the shores of the island of faraway Samar continues to wait for their church bells’ return to beckon their parishioners to prayer and worship, forgiveness and thanksgiving, celebration and remembrance.
On this Memorial Day.
Sylvester L. Salcedo lives in Orange. He is an attorney and a retired US Navy veteran (LCDR, USNR) with 20 years of active and reserve service from 1979-1999.