Along with the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese-Americans (OCA), Baruch’s Asian Pacific Heritage Month (APHM) Committee has initiated a birthday card campaign in honor of Private Danny Chen, who would’ve been twenty years old this May 26.
Born and raised in Manhattan’s Chinatown district, Chen was the only child of a chef and a seamstress. He graduated from PACE University High School in 2010, and was well known as having been optimistic among those closest to him. For about a week in 2011, before he decided to leave the college life behind and join the U.S. Army, Danny Chen was just like almost any other incoming freshman at Baruch College.
On October 3, 2011, Pvt. Chen was found dead in Afghanistan after being subjected to excessive mistreatment and racial taunts by his fellow soldiers and superiors. He was the only Chinese-American in his platoon, and often was derogatorily called gook, chink, and dragon lady.
Just a few days before Chen was found shot to death in a guard tower in Kandahar, an officer in his unit dragged Chen out of bed and across 50 feet of gravel, leaving his back full of bruises and lacerations. This incident was reported to Chen’s supervisors, but they did nothing.
On the day of his death, Chen was reportedly forced to crawl on gravel for roughly 330 feet while laden with equipment and enduring the humiliation and pain of having rocks thrown at him.
At first, the circumstances of Pvt. Chen’s death were kept under wraps by his chain of command, but an investigation began after details surfaced as to the nature of Chen’s mistreatment. The original cause of death was thought to be suicide, though that conclusion was withdrawn.
As of December 21, eight soldiers in Chen’s chain of command were charged with crimes related to his death, including 1st Lieutenant Daniel Schwartz, Staff Sergeants Blaine Dugas and Andrew Van Bockel, Sergeants Adam Holcomb, Jeffrey Hurst, and Travis Carden, and Specialists Thomas Curtis and Ryan Offutt.
Originally, all involved were charged with crimes that, if convicted, would have seen them all spending 10 years to life behind bars, but “since the heat dropped,” according to USG Secretary and organizer of Baruch’s birthday card campaign Ivy Lei, charges have been reduced for four of the eight men, who now face maximum sentences of three years.
The aim of the card campaign is to gather as many birthday cards as possible so they can be delivered to Washington as a reminder that people are still paying attention to Chen’s case, and as a reminder that blatantly bigoted actions cannot and will not be tolerated. The campaign will coincide with efforts at other campuses around the state coordinated by the OCA.
On Monday April 30, the APHM Committee will have a giant birthday card for students to sign available on the second floor of the VC. The following evening, between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., the OCA will be coming to give a presentation on the topic in the Multipurpose Room of the VC, at which time they will collect all the cards that have been signed by Baruch students.
Birthday cards of a more manageable size can also be picked up on the second floor of the VC and mailed to the OCA prior to May 14. In mid-may, the OCA plans to deliver these birthday cards to members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees in Washington, D.C.