CHINATOWN — The grieving mother of Army Pvt. Danny Chen finally received some comfort this week when she learned that the military trials of the men accused of driving her son to commit suicide in Afghanistan were moved to the United States and could begin as soon as next month.
"That will make [my] heart feel so much better," Su Zhen Chen said Thursday.
She and her husband were initially told that they would have to travel to Afghanistan if they wanted to watch the courts-martial of the eight soldiers charged in the 19-year-old's bullying death last fall.
But the Army announced Wednesday that the trials would be held at Fort Bragg in North Carolina instead, a much easier and safer trip for Chen's family.
The soldiers face charges ranging from manslaughter and assault to making false statements and dereliction of duty. Several are accused of taunting Chen with racial slurs and pelting him with rocks, allegedly driving him to shoot himself in a guard tower in Kandahar Province last October. Others are accused of not reporting the abuse to higher-ups.
"In North Carolina, [Chen's] parents will be able to look these eight people in their face, in their eye, and ask, 'Why? Why did you do this to Danny?'" City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said Thursday. "And hopefully we will get justice."
The courts-martial could begin as soon as May and are expected to conclude by late fall, said Elizabeth OuYang, president of OCA-NY, an Asian American advocacy group. The charges first have to be approved by the commanding officer of Chen's unit, which is expected to happen soon, OuYang said.
Also on Thursday, Chen's family, OCA-NY and other advocates announced plans to mark what would have been Chen's 20th birthday on May 26.
OCA-NY is leading a campaign to collect 10,000 birthday cards for Chen containing wishes for his family and calls for stricter anti-bullying rules in the Army.
"As parents, [we] want the world to know about Danny and not to forget about Danny," Yan Tao Chen, Danny's father, said through a translator. "This campaign is very important to [us]."
People who would like to participate can contact OCA-NY for a template, submit a card online or mail cards to OCA-NY, P.O. Box 3233, Church Street Station, New York, N.Y., 10008 by May 14. The cards will be delivered to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in Washington.
OCA-NY is also organizing a commemoration for Chen featuring musicians and visual artists May 24 at Pace High School, Chen's alma mater. More details will be announced soon.