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Danny Chen's Parents Speak Out

07-23-2012 14:14 BJT

By Jessica Stone, CCTV Washington Correspondent

In the living room of a small apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan, a candle burns brightly, flanked by a picture of a young man in a military uniform and a set of U.S. Army dogtags. It is a shrine to a son lost too soon; a U.S. soldier who died, not in battle, but under a set of circumstances leading to military criminal investigation, resulting in charges against eight soldiers for hazing and racial discrimination. This is the home of Private Danny Chen. His parents: Su Zhen Chen and Yan Tao Chen recently gave their first at-home, television interview to CCTV's Jessica Stone through an interpreter.


In 1987, Su Zhen Chen left work on the family farm in the Guangdong Province of China to come to the United States. She settled in New York City's Chinatown where she found work sewing pockets for men's and women's clothing. Three years later, she brought her husband, Yan Tao who found work as a chef in a Chinese restaurant. In 1992, they welcomed their son, Danny, to their tiny Elizabeth Street apartment in Chinatown. Life was modest, but they were happy.

The Chen's had big dreams for Danny, hopes that he would become a dutiful son, taking care of his parents and being a responsible citizen in his new country. They wanted him to have a better life than the life they had. The couple still speaks almost no English; instead speaking the Chinese dialect of Taishanese.

"I told him, 'Do well in your studies,'" said Su Zhen Chen through an interpreter, "'and you won't have to work as hard as your father.'"

Danny was a stand-out student. In first grade, he was asked to join the gifted program, making his parents proud. But even as a child, Danny Chen had dreams of his own.

“He had always been telling [us] the same thing: [he] either [wanted to] be a policeman or be in the military,” said Su Zhen Chen.


It was an uncommon goal for a kid, growing up in New York City's Chinatown. He did what it took to make it happen. In high school, Danny began to work out, at the YMCA on Houston Street in New York's SOHO neighborhood. It wouldn’t be long before he chose to join the U.S. Army, ending up deployed to Afghanistan in August 2011.

His unit - the Arctic Wolves - based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska headed to one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan: Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Over the course of the year's deployment, his unit lost 21 soldiers. Private Danny Chen died on October 3, 2011. He was 19 years old. But Danny did not die in combat.

Jessica Stone: “Take me back to the day when you found out that your son was gone.”

Yan Tao Chen: “The whole sky collapsed. We became so numb and I was dumbfounded, and my wife cried all day long."

Jessica Stone: “What was your first thought?”

Yan Tao Chen: Why [did] my son die in Afghanistan?”

The answer was shocking: suicide.

The U.S. Army called it "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound." But this has never made sense to Danny's father.

“We did not believe he committed suicide, because from when he was very young, he wanted to be in the military,” said Chen.


But with poor English and little education, the Chen's circle of family and friends worried they might never get answers to their questions. Members of the Chinese-American community soon put the family in touch with a local advocacy group called OCA-NY. The group produced a youtube video, involving friends, family, politicians - even Danny's teachers - all asking the same question: "What happened to Danny Chen?"

“We have heard many instances of cover-ups, and we wanted a thorough and transparent investigation,” said Elizabeth OuYang of OCA-NY.

The video garnered more than 40 thousand hits, gathering support from around the world.

The U.S. Army's subsequent investigation shows that Chen was tormented for six weeks by his superiors. They allegedly called him racial slurs like "dragon lady" and "'chink." On the day of his death, he was allegedly dragged across gravel, pelted with rocks, and ordered to crawl on the ground, with sandbags tied to his arms.

The U.S. Army has charged eight soldiers in connection with Danny's death. The first military trial begins July 24, 2012.

Danny's parents plan to attend, along with more than 30 family members and supporters.

“I want to question the eight people [and ask] why they treated my son the way they treated him,” said Yan Tao Chen, “We hope that the military will treat this matter with fairness and with justice.”

Asked what justice looks like, Danny's mother responded through tears: “Convict those people who committed the crime so I feel that my son could rest at peace. Even if he dies, he could rest in peace.”

“Our son is gone. He’s our only son. There’s an old Chinese saying: ‘You raise your son for your old age and right now, all we have is each other,’” said Yan Tao Chen.

Editor:Sun Luying |Source: CNTV.CN

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