The "third bell" of Balangiga on its concrete pedestal in the Madison Barracks
at Sackets Harbor, New York, where the 9th US Infantry Regiment was stationed
at the turn of the 20th century. This bell is now at their present station in Korea.
(Photographed issued upon the request of Jean Wall from a New York source.)

Solving the Balangiga bell puzzle

A third bell paves way for info sharing

Tacloban City

(Banner article in the INQUIRER Visayas section, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2001, p. A14.)

PROTAGONISTS on both sides of the Pacific, who had taken strong adversarial positions on the Balangiga bells issue, set aside their differences late last month and opened lines of communication and cooperation.

Since then, they have shared valuable data and information that appeared to have finally unraveled the puzzle of the three bells of Balangiga.

For years, the Balangiga Massacre on Samar Island on Sept. 28, 1901, which marks its centennial a few weeks from now, was associated with two famous “Bells of Balangiga” displayed at the Trophy Park of the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The return of these relics to the Philippines remains the last issue of contention between the US and Philippine governments related to the Philippine-American War.

The Associated Press reported in December 1997 the presence of a “third bell” of Balangiga that is with the US forces in Korea.

The new twist raised questions about the authenticity of the two bells in Wyoming and an information blackout on the bell in Korea.

The answers to the questions did not come, and the information blackout was not lifted, until very recently.

Today, it could be inferred from latest information that the two bells in Wyoming and the third bell in Korea belong to the same set of three bells taken down from the church belfry of Balangiga in late 1901.

Initial questions about the authenticity of the two bells in Wyoming were based on the premise that they are of equal sizes, as could be seen in photographs and as described by various observers. If so, they could only have belonged to two different churches, and not only to the church of Balangiga.

Dave McCracken helped settle this issue by volunteering to take actual measurements of the two bells in Wyoming last July 31. He promptly sent his findings to Jean Wall, daughter of the first American soldier to be attacked in Balangiga and US-based member of our three-person Balangiga watch group.

This document was shared with Bob Couttie in Subic and this writer in Tacloban.

McCracken is a retired US Air Force colonel and former commander of the F.E. Warren Air Force Base. He bitterly opposed any compromise settlement on the Balangiga bells in Wyoming in 1998.

Different sizes

The circa-1863 bell in Wyoming, with a mouth diameter of 31-1/4 inches and height of 30 inches turned out to be the larger of the two relics. This bell was cast in a different foundry, probably Augustinian. It is inscribed with a name, R. San Francisco.

The circa-1889 bell has a mouth diameter of 27-3/4 inches and height of 27-1/2 inches. This one has the Franciscan emblem and is the smaller of the two bells. It is inscribed with the name of Fr. Agustin Delgado in Latin (i.e., Augustin Delcado).

Qualitatively, the circa-1863 bell could be classified as large, and the circa-1889 bell could be classified as medium-sized.

A bell with the Balangiga survivors in a photograph, also with the Franciscan emblem, looks like the smallest of the three bells. The actual measurements are not yet known, but estimates based on the body-build of the boy and the soldiers around it show that this bell is probably 23 or 24 inches tall and with a mouth diameter of about 20 inches.

However, the biggest piece of the bells’ puzzle was the “third bell” in Korea. But this was also the toughest to crack.

US military authorities appeared to have imposed an information blackout on this bell, and two known attempts to inquire about it had been fruitless.

The latest was the failed six-month effort of the Philippine Embassy in the US through its counterpart in Seoul.

A way was found through the back door.

Jean Wall dug deep into her archives. She found an old letter from someone who had knowledge of a Balangiga bell on a pedestal in the old Madison Barracks in New York, before this was dismantled and brought to the next 9th Infantry home station in Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

Wall contacted this person, who in turn gave her both information and a picture of the bell in Madison Barracks. But this bell looked different from the bell photographed with the Balangiga survivors. The survivors’ bell had a domed top while the Madison Barracks bell had a flatter top, although both have the Franciscan emblem.

Yet, inquiry with the museum curator of Fort Lewis in Washington, the next 9th Infantry home station after Texas, revealed that the Balangiga bell from Madison Barracks and Texas was brought here. This relic is now in Korea and has traveled with the regiment wherever it went around the world.

The option left was to risk a call to Korea.

Blackout lifted

With a referral from the museum curator at Fort Lewis, Jean Wall contacted by phone the curator of the 9th Infantry Regiment Museum in Camp Red Cloud in Korea. This person confirmed the presence of the Balangiga bell in their museum. He sounded very cooperative after learning that the caller is the daughter of a Balangiga survivor.

Wall offered a swap - documents about the Balangiga Massacre and related materials for the museum library in exchange for pictures of the bell in Korea. She did her part even before the promised pictures reached her.

What followed were days full of suspense, during which it was feared that some superior officers of the 9th Infantry would still invoke the information blackout on their bell.

Surprisingly, on July 30, Wall received her requested information and digital photos of the bell in Korea. She was told that the Balangiga bell is permanently displayed in the museum, on a raised platform with a rope barrier to keep hands off.

The digital photos shared with the two other watch group members showed clearer details, such as the name of a Fr. Bernardo and the year 1895. A search through available documents by this writer showed the full name of the priest as Fr. Bernardo Aparecio.

A blown-up photo of the survivors’ bell also has the name of Father Bernardo.

This bell looked very similar to the one in Korea, except for its domed top.

Bob Couttie, the British in our watch group, solved the remaining doubt through a computer imaging of the two bell pictures with the help of Australian photojournalist Kevin Hamdorf at the Hamdorf’s workshop in Subic.

Analysis showed that the “dome” on top of the survivors’ bell was in fact just a pile of cord. It was then concluded that the survivors’ bell and the bell in Korea are one and the same.

This finding was arrived at almost simultaneously with the receipt of McCracken’s measurements of the two bells in Wyoming.

The bells story

With sufficient outside information already in, the story of the possible origins of each of the three bells of Balangiga could now be told.

After Balangiga became a separate parish on Sept. 27, 1859, the town probably took four years to raise funds to acquire its first church bell.

This might have been the large, circa-1863 bell now in Wyoming. R. San Francisco, the name inscribed on the bell, was probably the parish priest at that time.

The town probably acquired its second bell, a medium-sized one, in 1889, through the initiative of Fr. Agustin Delgado, whose name is inscribed on the bell.

Delgado was the assistant parish priest of Basey town from 1882 to 1885, and of Guiuan town from 1885 to 1888. He later became parish priest of Guiuan from 1898 to 1903.

Balangiga probably acquired its third and smallest bell in 1895, through the initiative of Fr. Bernardo Aparecio.

Prior to his Balangiga assignment, Father Aparecio was parish priest of nearby Quinapundan town from 1888 to 1895.

The 1895 bell, the relic photographed with the Balangiga survivors and the one now in Korea, turned out to be the most historic of the three. This was presumably the lone bell that was rung to signal the attack on Company C, 9th US Infantry Regiment, in Balangiga on Sept. 28, 1901.

Return a bell

Jean Wall got involved in the Balangiga debate a few years ago when she sought official recognition for her father, Pvt. Adolph Gamlin, now considered the greater American hero in Balangiga.

She has since found that her goal is tightly linked with a just and fair resolution of the bells’ issue.

A few weeks ago, when the identity of the Balangiga bells was still being sorted out, Wall wrote an emotional e-mail to Dave McCracken in Wyoming.

She said, “… (I)f there are three bells of Balangiga, one of these bells should be returned, to ring out in all its glory on September 28th, for all men, of all races, for all past conflicts, and for those who have fought and died for their beliefs and their country, lest the world and all generations to follow forget their forefathers and what they gave up to protect the freedom of those to follow.”

In the same light, the temporary wooden marker for the new belfry of Balangiga, inaugurated on Sept. 28, 1998, nourished the following hope:

“Let freedom ring once more from those bells, from the Belfry of Balangiga where they originally belong, to punctuate America's generosity of spirit, and the gallantry of our forebears, and complete the healing.”

But will the influential veterans in Wyoming and the politicians on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., take heed? We certainly hope so.