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Chinatown Soldier's Death Prompts Meeting With Pentagon Officials

By Serena Solomon | December 13, 2011 7:32pm
Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of Manhattan, died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2011
Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of Manhattan, died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2011
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U.S. Military

EAST VILLAGE — Chinatown's community leaders, still reeling over the mysterious death in Afghanistan of a soldier from Manhattan, will meet with Pentagon officials on Wednesday to discuss issues of race, bullying and suicide in the army.

Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, who attended public school on the Lower East Side before he was deployed, was found inside a guard tower with a gunshot wound to the head on Oct. 3 while stationed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Wednesday's meeting and a community march planned for Thursday, follow allegations that Chen was subjected to racial slurs from superiors. There are lingering questions about the circumstances of his death.

“We want to find out from [the Army] what they are doing to integrate, support and protect soldiers working at these bases, especially minority soldiers," said Elizabeth OuYang, the president of the New York Chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA-NY) who is attending the meeting.

Although many questions remain unanswered about the death of Pvt. Chen, Wednesday's conversation will not venture into the soldier's death, according to OuYang, since there is an ongoing investigation into the incident by the Army. The Army's Chief of Public Affairs also told DNAinfo that no information about Chen could be released due to the investigation.

OuYang and other community leaders such as U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Councilwoman Margaret Chin, will head to Washington, D.C. to meet with Thomas Lamont, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), and Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, Deputy Chief of Staff G-1, of the United States Army.

An Army spokesman, George Wright, confirmed the meeting would take place at the Pentagon at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.  The meeting would cover diversity programs, military justice issues, the complaint process and how new soldiers are brought into the Army and how they are taught Army culture, Wright told DNAinfo. 

OuYang hopes Wednesday's meeting will address broader issues brought to light by Pvt. Chen's death.

“There is a big gap between what their [the Army's] policies are on paper and the way in which these policies are being enforced," she said. OuYang gave the example of a culture of hazing and rape in the armed forces that is not being addressed.

“What ways could the Army be taking these incidences seriously?” she said.

The outcome of the meeting will be shared at a community march that begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Army Recruiting Center at 143 Chambers St. Marchers will head to Columbus Park in Chinatown where a vigil will be held for Chen.

The teenager's death has greatly impacted the city's Asian community, and the OCA-NY has taken a leading role in putting pressure on the Army to provide answers.

The organization recently released a video where local residents ask the question “What happened to Danny?”  In it, Lily Woo, the principal of P.S. 130 where Chen went to school, tells how she loves seeing former students during the holiday season.

“But Danny won’t be one of them,” she said.

The OCA-NY also announced Tuesday that a nationally recognized forensic expert, Dr. Henry Lee, will be assisting the organization to independently determine the cause of Chen’s death. Lee, who has worked on cases such as post-9/11 forensic investigation and the O.J. Simpson case, will be forming a team to review autopsy reports, the army’s final investigative report, and other physical evidence.

“We feel we have an obligation to our community so people can make an informed decision about whether they want to serve in the Army,” said OuTang.

“One non-combat death is one too many,” she added.