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Church Bells, Taken By U.S. Soldiers, To Return To The Philippines

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets a Philippine diplomat about a pair of church bells. Here's Wyoming Public Radio's Maggie Mullen.

MAGGIE MULLEN, BYLINE: During his State of the Nation Address last year, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, called on the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE: Give us back those Balangiga bells.

(APPLAUSE)

MULLEN: American soldiers took the bells in 1901 from the Philippine village of Balangiga. In the Philippine-American War, a U.S. general ordered an attack so severe he wanted to leave Balangiga's whole island a quote, "howling wilderness."

The regimen that came in after that attack brought the bells to the U.S. as war booty. The bells came to Fort Russell, now F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, and they've been there ever since. Historian Rick Ewig says the Philippines objected.

RICK EWIG: By 1911, there was a general in the Philippines who was questioning the propriety of really taking church bells as war souvenirs.

MULLEN: Since then, Philippine ambassadors, Catholic Church leaders, even President Bill Clinton have said the bells should go back. Stephen Kravitsky (ph) with the Wyoming Veterans Commission, says local vets see the bells as a memorial.

STEPHEN KRAVITSKY: I think there's an emotional attachment to them.

MULLEN: Before the final battle in Balangiga, the Philippine villagers had taken the upper hand. They killed 48 American soldiers at breakfast, and the attack signal was the ring of one of the bells. But this summer, Defense Secretary Mattis told Congress the bells would go back. So today, Mattis and the Philippine ambassador to the U.S. will hold a ceremony at Warren to kick off the formal process. For NPR News, I'm Maggie Mullen in Laramie.

(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "SHE'S KNOCKING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.