CHINATOWN — Hundreds of New Yorkers took their mourning and anger to the streets Thursday over the mysterious death of a Chinatown solider in Afghanistan, calling on the military to come forward with information about his tragic death.
Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, who was raised in Chinatown and the East Village and attended 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.
Chen’s cause of death has still yet to be determined, investigators said, but many have questioned the chain of events that led to the tragedy. Military officials previously informed the soldier's parents that superior officers had beaten Chen prior to his death for not turning off the hot water at his base.
“Our heart goes out to his parents for losing their only son,” said Councilwoman Margaret Chin to the crowd at Columbus Park, who gathered for the march and vigil that started outside an Army recruiting center on Chambers Street and wended its way to Columbus Park in Chinatown.
Chin was part of a delegation Wednesday that met with officials at the Pentagon in Washington to discuss issues of of race, bullying and suicide in the Army. Although the specifics of Chen's death were not discussed at the meeting due to an ongoing military investigation, Chin said the meeting was “historic because we [the Asian community] had a seat at the table.”
The march was organized by the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans and co-sponsored by 36 other organizations, including the Asian American Youth Center and Chinatown Youth Initiatives.
The procession from the recruitment center at 143 Chambers St. was led by Chen’s parents, mother Su Zhen Chen and father Yan Tao Chen. His mother, who does not speak English, held an image of her son in his army uniform as she wiped away tears.
At the vigil, the song “Two Weeks from 20” by the band Yellowcard, said to be one of Chen's favorites, played. The lyrics drew an eerie comparison to the teenager’s death.
“We lost another one. That we send with a gun. They’re gonna miss him, we was two weeks from 20,” the song rang out.
While the crowd included members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, many came from the city’s traditionally private Chinese community.
David Lai-Len, a 64-year-old Army veteran who grew up in Chinatown and now lives in New Jersey, left work early to attend.
“I feel close because I was in the service,” said Lai-Len, as he marched while wearing his military medallions. “I feel like he was my brother.”
He accused the Amy of attempting to cover up the situation.
“They are just putting spin on his death,” Lai-Len added.
Ivy Teng Lei, a 21-year-old Chinatown native and staffer at Pace High School, where Pvt. Chen graduated, said the soldier's death had a huge impact on the community.
“It has definitely stirred up the Chinese community — not just in Manhattan, but in New York," she said.
“All we want is the truth."