MANHATTAN — Supporters of Army Pvt. Danny Chen plan to mark the Chinatown native's birthday with thousands of heartfelt letters — hand-delivered Wednesday to Washington, D.C. officials.
Chen would have turned 20 on Saturday. He committed suicide in Afghanistan after alleged bullying by fellow soldiers.
"It’s incredible the cards we received — from 8-year-olds to military recruiters to police officers to students to family with military," said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans’ New York office.
"It’s really amazing."
Wednesday's trip will also give advocates and politicians the chance to press for passage of recently introduced federal legislation that aims to prevent hazing in the military.
Chen was 19 when he was found dead Oct. 3, 2011 of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Afghanistan base. Chen's relatives have said he suffered a pattern of physical abuse and racial taunting during his deployment, including rock-throwing by fellow soldiers and discriminatory barbs about his Chinese heritage. Eight soldiers in Chen's battalion have been charged in connection with his death.
OuYang said Chen’s Memorial Day weekend birthday provides a "poetic" opportunity for advocates to raise awareness about their cause.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who is sponsoring the anti-hazing bill, and Chen’s parents are scheduled to meet with the four leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to discuss the legislation, OuYang said.
The measure calls for the creation of policies to prevent hazing, including sensitivity training for military personnel and the expansion of channels to report incidents of abuse.
Anyone interested in joining advocates in Washington, D.C., can take a bus set to leave at 8 a.m. Wednesday from 28 Allen St. in Chinatown. A press conference will take place at 7:30 a.m. before the bus departs.
"We will not forget Danny," OuYang said of the symbolism behind the birthday card delivery to White House officials.
"We will keep advocating until there is justice for Danny and reforms to prevent these types of senseless tragedies."