On the last page of one of my favorite novels as a teenager, A Bell for Adano by John Hershey, it reads:
“Listen,” the Major said. “Do you hear something?”
It was a fine sound in the summer air. The tone was good and it must have been loud to hear it as far as this.
“Just a bell,” the driver said. “Must be eleven o’clock.”
“Yes,” the Major said. He looked over the hills across the sea, and the day was clear as the sound of the bell itself, but the Major could not see or think very clearly.
“Yes,” he said, “eleven o’clock.”
Over the past weekend, here in Connecticut, if you had looked over the hills across the sea… and Googled “Bells of Balangiga, Samar, ABS-CBN” you too would, and can, hear the the sounds of three historic Catholic church bells ringing for “Simbang Gabi” (the Filipino Catholic tradition of nine evening Masses before Christmas) for the first time in 117 years.
The 117 years is significant because of the Philippine War. The unrecognized, forgotten war that immediately followed the end of the four-month long Spanish-American War of 1898, known as the “Splendid Little War.” Better known and widely memorialized, the Spanish-American War overshadowed the more brutal, more bloody, universally ignored and costly Philippine War, in national treasure and loss of life, American and Filipino.
This fall I went to my hometown’s high school, Amity Regional High School (Woodbridge, Orange and Bethany), where the school has four versions of their American History textbook, including an AP edition, and none mentioned or explained the Philippine War or Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, that stretched to the eve of World War One in isolated regions of the Philippines.
However, with a short drive to Hamden, at Sacred Heart Academy, their American History textbook prominently displays in the glossary and explains in the text, the Philippine War. The Sacred Heart Academy’s American History textbook acknowledges it as part of American history. Our history.
Likewise, a cursory internet search of the American Military History, Volume 1 by the Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, DC, Richard W. Stewart, General Editor, Second Edition has a meager 6 pages of text and photos, but it too clearly listed the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902.
For about 50 years until this year, a handful of misguided and stubborn veterans in Cheyenne, Wyoming fought and succeeded legislatively to keep the Bells of Balangiga as a makeshift war memorial to soldiers killed in the Philippine War in 1901, during the largest loss of American soldiers in battle since Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn in 1876.
Today, in our home state, we have forgotten, and continue to fail to acknowledge and honor the ultimate sacrifices of our veterans like First Lieutenant Ward Cheney of Manchester (Yale, Class of 1896), who died in near Imus, Cavite on January 9, 1900. Lieutenant Cheney’s death in the Philippine War may have been the moving and singular inspiration for Mark Twain’s searing essay, The War Prayer. However, most people are unaware of the Philippine War, so they think Twain is referring to the horrors of the American Civil War.
Memorial Day is 160 days away. With a newly elected governor, cabinet and legislative body ready to take on the challenges that lay ahead for Connecticut, and with an accompanying hopeful look to the new year, will this coming Memorial Day bring finally the recognition and honor that our Connecticut Veterans of the Philippine War, 1899-1902 deserve?
Without further equivocation and delay, it is time to add a Philippine War marker on the plaza of the Statewide Veterans Memorial in front of the Legislative Office Building and State Armory in Hartford. In 2019.
Yes, the time is eleven o’clock.
Sylvester L. Salcedo lives in Orange. He is an attorney and a retired US Navy veteran (LCDR, USNR) with 20 years of active and reserve service from 1979-1999.