Fort Bragg, N.C. - (Reuters) - Some U.S. Army soldiers testified on Wednesday that they heard a Chinese-American soldier called racially derogatory names by a superior, but said they never saw signs Private Danny Chen was suicidal.
Chen, born to immigrant parents in New York City, killed himself by gun shot in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan last October. One of his superiors, Sergeant Adam Holcomb, is standing trial this week in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on allegations that his hazing of Chen led the 19-year-old to commit suicide.
Holcomb, 30, has pleaded not guilty. He faces nearly 18 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge if convicted of charges that include negligent homicide.
Seven of Chen’s other superiors also face charges in the case and will be tried separately.
Holcomb’s attorneys argue Chen killed himself because he was struggling as an infantryman and had been disowned by his parents for joining the Army.
Fellow soldiers who testified on Wednesday agreed Chen sometimes showed up for duty without the proper equipment and fell asleep while he was supposed to be keeping watch in the guard tower.
But some said the young soldier seemed to get picked on or singled out more than others for punishment.
In a military culture where nicknames are common, Chen’s fellow soldiers said he endured racial slurs. They said Holcomb called Chen “dragon lady,” “Jackie Chen,” and “egg roll.”
Several soldiers testified Chen never said whether the names bothered him, but Private 1st Class Adrian Douglas said Chen told him the references sometimes angered him. “But he felt like he couldn’t really do anything about it,” Douglas said.
Private 1st Class Joshua Morgan said he and Chen were close friends. Though Chen usually was in good spirits during their deployment, Morgan said his friend confided that his parents had disowned him.
Chen’s father, Yan Tao Chen, denied on Wednesday that he and his wife had cut off contact with their only child.
He said he thought “it was a glorious thing” that his son joined the Army. “What I am most happy about is he was able to choose what he wanted to do,” he added.
Editing by David Adams and Todd Eastham