Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Secretary of Defense James Mattis will depart Wednesday on a day trip with stops in Texas visiting troops stationed on the Mexican border and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., for a ceremony commemorating the return of the war prize Balangiga bells to the Philippines.
Mattis will meet with commanders and soldiers among the thousands of troops currently stationed on the border, with numbers that the Department of Defense has said will reach roughly 7,000.The troops stationed there are meant to bolster border security by laying obstacles such as razor-wire and providing surveillance, logistics and other services to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Military leaders have said that the troops will not directly interact with migrants attempting to cross the border except in a support capacity.
Later Wednesday, Mattis will meet with the Philippine ambassador to the U.S. at F.E. Warren Air Force Base to mark the beginning of the transfer of the Balangiga Bells back to Philippine custody. They had been taken as war booty during Filipino-American War in 1901.
After villagers in Balangiga launched an ambush that led to the deaths of nearly 50 U.S. soldiers while they slept or were cooking breakfast, soldiers who believed the three church bells were rung to signal the attack seized them as trophies. This was part of a series of reprisal killings against males over the age of 10 that led to the deaths of over 2,000 people.
The bells had been on display in South Korea and Wyoming until Mattis authorized their return after pressure from groups in the Philippines and U.S. groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars.