Thanks for your recent article on Private Danny Chen and Asian Americans in the military. I just returned from a national meeting of OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans), where we were briefed by the New York chapter of OCA ― the organization that brought national attention to the death of Private Danny Chen and the leading organization seeking justice for him and his parents ― on these issues. This letter is to clarify some statements in your article and to provide an update on Chen’s case, as well as what OCA is doing to reduce harassment in the military.
First, your article stated that Private Chen “died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.” While the Army said that Chen committed suicide, neither the investigators nor renowned forensic expert Henry Lee reached this conclusion. Second, your article suggested that the trial against those charged in Private Chen’s case will be in Alaska in August, when his unit returns to the States. Upon the demand of the OCA-New York that the trial be held on U.S. soil, the trial will be held at Ft. Bragg, N.C., probably in early summer. Your article suggested that the deaths of Private Chen (and Marine Corporal Harry Lew) “started important conversations about issues of isolation and the fine line between discipline and hazing.” Clearly, the focus is obtaining “Justice for Private Danny Chen” and finding ways to reduce harassment ― including racial and ethnic harassment ― in the military.
The death of Private Danny Chen is a stark reminder of the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. Chin was beaten to death in Detroit by two white autoworkers who thought he was Japanese, whom the two blamed for the severe downturn in the U.S. auto industry and the loss of jobs. Although the two were charged with and pleaded guilty to manslaughter, they merely received three years probation and a $3,000 fine. Later, federal charges were brought against the two for violating Chin’s civil rights. One was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but released on a $20,000 bond, and the other cleared. A federal appeals court overturned that decision on a technicality. The case was then retried and moved to Cincinnati, where the jury cleared the defendant of all charges.
Like [that of] Vincent Chin, the death of Private Danny Chen was, in large part, due to his race and ethnicity.
Private Chen was found dead in Afghanistan after being subject to excessive mistreatment and racial taunts by his superiors. They, this group of superiors, singled Chen out almost daily and yelled racial slurs, like “gook,” “chin,” and “dragon lady.” They forced him to do sprints while carrying a sandbag. They ordered him to crawl along a gravel-covered ground, while they flung rocks at him. One day, they went as far as forcing him to wear a green hard-hat and shout out instructions to his fellow soldiers in Chinese.
Eight superiors, including an officer, have been charged in connection with Private Chen’s death, with offenses ranging from dereliction of duty to negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. We are now waiting for the eight to be court-martialed. We demand justice for Private Danny Chen and his parents, who lost their only child.
Private Danny Chen would have turned 20 on May 26th. To ensure justice in the trial of the eight soldiers charged, OCA-New York has began a campaign to collect 10,000 birthday cards by May 14th with a message that reflects the fight for justice for him. Greater Seattle OCA hopes to collect 500 or more of these birthday cards. In mid-May, OCA-New York will take the birthday cards to members of the U.S. Senate and House Armed Forces Committees in Washington, D.C., to remind them that we want justice for Private Danny Chen.
On May 24th, at Manhattan’s Chinatown’s Pace High School, where Danny Chen went, OCA-New York will be holding a birthday salute to Private Danny Chen. Proceeds from that event will be used to mobilize people (including sending Chen’s parents) to attend the court-martial trials at Ft. Bragg and for educating people worldwide of Chen’s case.
Meanwhile, OCA-New York and OCA National have been meeting with higher ranking military officers, including Asian Americans, military law professors, and others regarding ways to reduce harassment in the military. As of now, the thinking centers on getting President Barrack Obama, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to issue an Executive Order on harassment in the military, which focuses on greater enforcement of rules against harassment and raising the penalties of those found guilty of harassment.
Doug Chin, President
Greater Seattle OCA