The Bells of Balangiga are going home!

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At left, two Balangiga bells at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wy. At right, the third Balangiga bell in the Madison Barracks at Sackets Harbor, New York, station of the 9th US Infantry Regiment at the turn of the 20th century. This bell is now at Camp Red Cloud in Korea.

The Bells of Balangiga are going home!**

The announcement by Secretary of Jim Defense Mattis about the bells last Friday, on the eve of the last weekend before the most exciting statewide primary elections in some time, was overshadowed by last minute local campaign media blitz and political punditry.

All across Connecticut, chances are you never heard or read about this news, and if you saw it, you probably could have cared even less about it.

But to paraphrase former Vice President Joe Biden’s indiscreet, hot mic whisper into President Obama’s ear on the announcement that the ACA passed in the U.S. Congress, this news is actually a “very big, f@#%&*# deal”!  Even for Connecticut.

I was in Cheyenne, Wyoming while on a family summer trip to Yellowstone National Park, when I learned the news of Mattis’ letter to Congress about the Pentagon’s plan to return the Bells of Balangiga to the Filipino Catholic parish church, San Lorenzo de Martir (coincidently, the first Filipino saint) in Samar from where U.S. troops seized them as war prize 117 years ago during the Philippine War.

The announcement sent shock waves throughout Wyoming’s political elite and some local veterans.  Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, joined by the state’s sole congresswoman Rep. Liz Cheney, issued immediately a letter to President Trump objecting to the move and claiming that moving the bells would “set a dangerous precedent for future veterans’ memorials.”  Political machinations — as if the U.S. military has future plans to seize more religious articles from houses of worship around the world to use as war memorials to America’s war dead.

Under Secretary Mattis’ leadership, the Department of Defense is correcting finally and admirably repairing a century old violation of its own core values that the U.S. military will not seized private property in occupied lands.  And much less, to use religious artifacts to serve as war memorials to America’s fallen heroes.

For over two decades, Presidents G.H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush and Barack Obama could not find the political will to correct this egregious mistake by America’s military forces (active duty and retired) as Commander in Chief, but they merely kicked this diminutive, political can down the road for whoever was the next in line.  They all feared political backlash from a handful of retired veterans from Cheyenne (many were former base commanders of the F.W. Warren Air Force Base) and their Congressional delegations who are collectively outsized for their numbers.

For us in Connecticut, especially for the memory of our veterans, this historic turn of events is absolutely significant and a very “big deal.” A cursory reading of news accounts about the Bells of Balangiga last week from around the world —  from Cheyenne to Washington, DC, London and Manila — depicted a universal reference to this period in world history as the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902.

The Philippine War: the American War that signaled America’s rise as a world power at the dawn of the American Century.  The century that made America great.  But yet, in Hartford today, take a walk around the new Connecticut Statewide Veterans Memorial in front of the Legislative Office Building and the State Armory, and you will not find a marker to the Philippine War.  Connecticut’s mother of all war memorials skips from the Spanish-American War (May 1, 1898 to December 10, 1898) and jumps to World War I (1917-1918, for us).

So, who erased the Philippine War from Connecticut’s memory and relegated the veterans of 1899-1902 to the dustbin of history?  Where is Connecticut’s War Memorial to remember and honor 1st Lieutenant Ward Cheney of Manchester (Yale Class of 1896) who died near Imus, Cavite, Philippines on January 7, 1900?  And to honor and remember his fellow veterans who served and died in the Philippine War?

So now, let all Connecticut church bells ring out loud to remember them, and let us finally install the Philippine War marker in their honor and memory in Hartford.  Just as the Bells of Balangiga begin to make their journey home to the Island of Samar “to beckon their parishioners to prayer and worship, forgiveness and thanksgiving, celebration and remembrance.”

**See related CT Mirror Viewpoints, May 28, 2018, On Memorial Day, a story of false pride.

Sylvester L. Salcedo lives in Orange.  He is an attorney and a retired U.S. Navy veteran (LCDR, USNR) with 20 years of active and reserve service from 1979-1999.


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