Balangiga bells

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American survivors of the Balangiga massacre pose with a Balangiga bell. Photo taken in Calbayog, Samar, in April 1902
Two Balangiga bells exhibited at Fort D.A. Russel, now F. E. Warren Air Force Base
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, their present station in Korea

The Balangiga bells are three church bells taken by the United States Army from the town church of Balangiga, Eastern Samar in the Philippines as war trophies after reprisals following the Balangiga massacre in 1901 during the Philippine-American War. One church bell is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud, their base in South Korea,[1][2] while two others are on a former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.[3] At least one of the bells had tolled to signal the surprise attack by the Filipinos while the American troops were eating breakfast.

Balangiga massacre[edit]

On September 28, 1901, Filipino militants from the village of Balangiga ambushed Company C of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment, while they were at breakfast, killing an estimated 48 and wounding 22 of the 78 men of the unit, with only four escaping unhurt. The villagers captured about 100 rifles and 25,000 rounds of ammunition. An estimated 20 to 25 of the villagers had died in the fighting, with a similar number of wounded.[4]

In reprisal, General Jacob H. Smith ordered that Samar be turned into a "howling wilderness" and that any Filipino male above ten years of age capable of bearing arms be shot. From the burned-out Catholic town church, the Americans looted three bells which they took back to the United States as war booty. The 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment, however, maintains that the single bell in their possession was presented to the regiment by villagers when the unit left Balangiga on April 9, 1902.[5] Smith and his primary subordinate, Major Littleton Waller of the United States Marine Corps were both court-martialled for illegal vengeance against the civilian population of Samar. Waller was acquitted of the charges. Smith was found guilty, admonished and retired from service, but charges were dropped shortly after. He was later hailed as a war hero.[6]


After Balangiga became a separate parish on September 27, 1859, the town probably took four years to raise funds to acquire its first church bell. It was cast circa-1863 and bears what is probably an Augustinian emblem. It has a mouth diameter of ​31 14 inches and height of 30 inches. It is inscribed with a name, R. San Francisco, who was probably the parish priest at that time.[7]

The town probably acquired its second bell, cast circa-1889 and having a mouth diameter of ​27 34 inches and height of ​27 12 inches, in 1889 through the initiative of Fr. Agustin Delgado, whose name is inscribed on the bell.[7]

The third and smallest bell may have been acquired in 1895, through the initiative of Fr. Bernardo Aparecio. This is the bell now kept by the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment in Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. Estimates of its size deduce a 23-24 inch height and a mouth diameter of about 20 inches. It bears the Franciscan emblem.[2]

Removal to the United States[edit]

After the Balangiga incident, the town was recaptured on September 29, 1901 by 55 men of Company G, 9th Infantry. That unit departed the town the same day, and was replaced by 132 men from Companies K and L of the 11th Infantry Regiment which garrisoned the town until relieved on October 18, 1901. When the 11th Infantry departed, they brought home the war trophies. These included two of the bells removed from the burnt-down Balangiga Church, and a cannon from the plaza in front of the church. The bells were taken because one had been used by the insurgents to signal the attack on Company C, 9th Infantry.[8]

The 11th Infantry redeployed to Fort D.A. Russell in Wyoming, arriving on March 23, 1904. On May 16, 1905, the Cheyenne Daily Leader newspaper reported that the cannon had been mounted on the parade ground near the flagpole along with other relics from the Philippines " include the famous bell which gave the signal for the massacre of a whole company. Two large bells three feet tall and a seven-foot cannon were proudly displayed in front of the flagpole on the parade ground of the fort".[8]

A sign was installed over one of the bells that said;

This bell hung in the church at Balangiga, Samar, PI, and rung the signal for the attack on Company C, 9th U.S. Infantry, Sept 29 [28], 1901. Taken by Company L, 11th Infantry and detachment of Company K, 11th Infantry, the first units to reach the scene after the massacre.[8]

The sign above the bell erroneously credited units of the 11th Infantry with being the first to reach Balangiga after the battle. After further research, the sign was changed in 1911 giving proper credit to Company G, 9th Infantry, for recapturing Balangiga.[8]

In 1927, Fort Russell was renamed Fort Francis E. Warren. On 7 October 1949, it became Francis E. Warren Air Force Base.

In 1967, a curved red brick wall was constructed in the Warren AFB trophy park for the bells, with a bronze plaque on the wall between the bells telling the story of the massacre at Balangiga. As of 1987, a faint inscription was visible on the back of both bells, reading:

28TH SEPTEMBER 1901[8]

As of 2001, a glass case housed the bells along with the 400-year-old British Falcon cannon.[9][10]

The third church bell which was in the possession of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment is kept at the 2nd Infantry Division Museum in Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu. It had previously been displayed at the unit's Camp Hovey headquarters.[5]

Recovery attempts and potential return[edit]

In the mid-1990s, during the term of Fidel Ramos as Philippine president, attempts were initiated by his government to recover one or more of the bells from Bill Clinton's administration.[11][12] The United States government has been adamant that the bells are US government property, that it would take an Act of Congress to return them and that the Catholic Church has no say in the matter. For their part the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines hold the position that the bells are inappropriate as trophies of war.[3]

In 2002, the Philippine Senate approved Senate Resolution No. 393, authored by Aquilino Pimentel Jr., urging the Arroyo administration to undertake formal negotiations with the United States for the return of the bells.[1]

In 2005, the bishop of Borongan, Samar, Bishop Leonardo Medroso and Balangiga parish priest Saturnino Obzunar wrote an open letter addressed to President George W. Bush, the United States Congress and the Helsinki Commission, requesting them to facilitate the return of the bells.[13] That same year, the Wyoming Veterans’ Commission favored the return of the Filipino-American War relics, however, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal stated that he disagreed with the Commission and opposed returning the bells.[14] On January 13, 2005, United States Congressman Bob Filner had introduced H.Res.313, urging the President to authorize the transfer of ownership of one of the bells to the people of the Philippines. The resolution died on January 3, 2007, with the sine die adjournment of the 109th United States Congress.

On September 26, 2006, United States Congressman Bob Filner, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Congressman Ed Case co-sponsored House Concurrent Resolution No. 481 urging the president of the United States to authorize the return of the church bells.[15] The resolution died on January 3, 2009, with the sine die adjournment of the 110th United States Congress.

In 2007, Napoleón Abueva, the Philippines' National Artist for sculpture, wrote American Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney asking for her help in the bells' recovery.[16] On October 25 of the same year, during the 14th Congress of the Philippines, Senator Manny Villar filed Senate Resolution No. 177, a resolution "expressing the sense of the Senate for the return to the Philippines of the Balangiga Bells which were taken by the US troops from the town of Balangiga, Province of Samar in 1901".[17]

The townspeople of Balangiga asked the United States to return their church bells after receiving relief from the U.S. military subsequent to Typhoon Haiyan hitting the town in 2013.[18]

In his second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte demanded the bells' return, citing ownership of the Philippines.[19][20] He however did not raise the issue in a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump held in November 2017 during the 31st ASEAN Summit.[21]

In February 2018 two US lawmakers, Randy Hultgren and Jim McGovern, objected to the bells being returned to the Philippines due to the current human rights record established by Duterte's Philippine Drug War.[22] Six months later however, the US Embassy in the Philippines issued a statement that the US Department of Defense had notified the United States Congress that it plans to return the bells to the Philippines at an unspecified date.[23]

In popular culture[edit]

A Chicago-based, Philippine-American theater company called The Pintig Cultural Group presented a musical based on the incident, The Bells of Balangiga.[24]


  1. ^ a b "Voluntary Return of One Balangiga Bell by US Seen". Archived from the original on 2011-05-17. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  2. ^ a b Borrinaga, Rolando. "Solving the Balangiga bell puzzle". Archived from the original on 2009-10-22. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
  3. ^ a b Medroso, Leonardo. "The Bells of Balangiga: An Appeal for Support". Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
  4. ^ Bautista, Veltisezar. "The Balangiga, Samar, Massacre". Archived from the original on 2008-02-26. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  5. ^ a b Robson, Seth (2004-07-07). "Book casts doubt on bell's history". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  6. ^ "Philippine Insurrection, 1899-1902: A Working Bibliography". Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  7. ^ a b "Solving the Balangiga bell puzzle". Banner article in the INQUIRER Visayas section, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2001, p. A14. [Banner article in the INQUIRER Visayas section, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2001, p. A14. Banner article in the INQUIRER Visayas section, Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 11, 2001, p. A14.]
  8. ^ a b c d e Gerald M. Adams (Spring 1987). "THE F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE WAR TROPHIES FROM BALANGIGA, P.I". Annals of Wyoming. 59 (1): 29&ndash, 38.
  9. ^ Mead, Griver (2001-10-11). "For Whom the Bells Toll". Archived from the original on 2008-08-27. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  10. ^ "Fact Sheets:F.E. Warren History". Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  11. ^ "The Saga of the Balangiga Bells". Archived from the original on 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  12. ^ "The Bells of Balangiga Revisited". Retrieved 2008-03-19.
  13. ^ Pilapil, Jaime (2005-11-14). "Balangiga bells to be returned to RP soon". Manila Standard Today. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  14. ^ Lariosa, Joseph (2005-04-14). "US vets group wants to return Balangiga Bells to RP". The Filipino Express. Archived from the original on 2008-03-16. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  15. ^ Sampayan, Sonny (2006-09-29). "Bells of Balangiga Resolution filed in U.S. Congress". Samar Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  16. ^ "Help return Balangiga bells". Philstar Global Corp. 2007-07-26. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  17. ^ Villar, Manuel. "14th Congress - Senate Resolution No. 177". Archived from the original on 2007-12-09. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  18. ^ Layne, Nathan (November 21, 2013). "Please can we have our bells back? Philippine town asks U.S". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  19. ^ "Duterte to US: Return Balangiga bells". Sunstar Philippines. Manila: Sunstar Philippines. 2017-07-24. Retrieved 2017-07-24.
  20. ^ "Balangiga's lasting relevance of people's uprising will haunt Duterte". Sunstar Philippines. August 1, 2017. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
  21. ^ Ranada, Pia (14 November 2017). "Duterte doesn't raise Balangiga bells with Trump". Rappler. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  22. ^ Cabico, Gaea Katreena (7 February 2018). "US solons object return of Balangiga bells to Philippines due to human rights concerns". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  23. ^ Morales, Neil Jerome (12 August 2018). "U.S. to return colonization era church bells to the Philippines". Reuters. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  24. ^ Brooke, James (1997-12-01). "U.S.-Philippines History Entwined in War Booty". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-21.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°09′09″N 104°51′24″W / 41.1526°N 104.8566°W / 41.1526; -104.8566