Book casts doubt on bell's history

Soldiers from the 9th Infantry Regiment pose with one of three Balangiga bells in the Philippines in 1902 in this photo, displayed at the 2nd Infantry Division museum.

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 7, 2004

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — A century-old church bell in the 2nd Infantry Division Museum is the subject of a new book that casts doubt on the official history of how the U.S. Army obtained it.

Philippines-based researcher and author Bob Couttie said the book — “Hang The Dogs: The True Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre” — will be published next month. The book details events that led up to the 9th Infantry Regiment, which deployed to Philippines during the 1899-1902 Philippines-American War, taking possession of the bell.

The 2nd ID’s Iraq-bound 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment recently transferred the bell to the museum for safekeeping. The regiment previously displayed it at its Camp Hovey headquarters.

According to a caption of a 1902 picture of 9th Infantry Regiment soldiers with the bell: “The Bell of Balangiga originally hung in the bell tower of a church the village of Balangiga, Samar, Philippine Islands, where its intended purpose was to signal the start of church services. On 28 September 1901, however, it was used to signal the insurrectos, or rebels, who were under the command of Emilio Aquinaldo, to commence their surprise attack on the village of Balangiga and its garrison, Company C, Ninth Infantry Regiment.

“The night before the attack some three hundred insurrectos, who were dressed as women, entered the church with smuggled weapons. They remained in the church until the following morning, when by arrangement between certain village officials and the insurrectos, the bell was rung as a signal to start the attack. In the ensuing savage fight, more than one-half of the seventy-four men of Company C, under the command of Cpt. Thomas Connell, were killed, and only four of the remaining Manchus escaped without wounds. Those Manchus fought fiercely and killed approximately 250 insurrectos by the time the battle was over and they were relieved by Company E, Ninth Infantry Regiment.”

The caption says villagers presented the bell to the regiment when it left Balangiga on April 9, 1902.

However, “Hang The Dogs,” which author Couttie said is based on 10 years of research, suggests the Manchus killed only 30 insurrectos then retreated about 20 miles to the nearest garrison at Basey.

“The next day, two companies of the 9th went to Balangiga, buried the dead and burned the town,” said Couttie, a British native.

The regiment obtained three church bells from Balangiga, two of which are at Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming.

“This remains an issue and there are yearly requests to return the bells to Balangiga,” Couttie said.

Staffers at the 2nd ID Museum said they are not aware of any plans to return the bells.

“It is the position of the Center for Military History that these [bells] are part of the 9th Infantry Regiment’s storied past that dates back to 1799. It is one of the original two regiments of the 2nd Infantry Division when it was formed in 1917,” a staff member said.

The Balangiga bell will be displayed in a glass case in the museum’s regimental room along with the photograph, the staff member said.

Couttie said the Balangiga incident is a lesson for soldiers deploying to Iraq. The insurrection may have been caused by some of Connell’s decisions after C Company occupied Balangiga, he said.

“In 1897 a massive typhoon scoured the Samar coast, producing floods of up to 15 feet, wiping out the island’s economy and much of its food. It would take three to five years to recover. So, by late 1901, they were just harvesting what was probably the first substantive food they’d seen for four years.

“[Connell] … followed standard operating procedure and wanted the town cleaned up. The townspeople, naturally, were more interested in getting their food crops in than doing the housework. Eventually, this resulted in every able-bodied man in the town being seized, imprisoned, and given forced labor to clean up the town.”

The history of the Balangiga Bell, seen on display at at the 2nd ID Museum at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea in 2004, is under debate. The 2nd ID claims townspeople presented it the bell in 1902, while a new book says U.S. troops seized the bell after burning the town.

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