Opera Theatre’s latest world premiere pays tribute to the memory of a heroic American soldier, Private Danny Chen. We recognize that the power of this opera comes from a place of deep tragedy, one that has forever altered the lives of Danny’s family and friends. No words or music can ever fully express their loss, but we offer these memories from those who knew and loved this remarkable young man.
“Danny to me personally was more of an ordinary American and my closest cousin than he was a soldier to everyone else. He was there ever since I could remember. We collectively created countless memories growing up. From sitting in front of a tiny television screen watching cartoons every Saturday morning, to tossing our younger cousins around the bed during Lunar New Year gatherings, to the last family dinner we had together before he went to basic training, and the very last dinner before he left for Alaska and Afghanistan. He was family before he was duty.” – Banny Chen, Danny’s cousin
“I had the honor and privilege of being Danny’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teacher. He was one of those students a teacher always remembers and never forgets because of his jovial spirit. He always managed to brighten the classroom by putting a smile on everyone’s face and making us laugh out loud with his sense of humor. He brought so much joy to his family and to his friends. He had the biggest heart for others. Danny’s legacy has inspired me to be better and to do better. He’ll forever be one of my greatest teachers.” – Renny Fong, Danny’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teacher
“Everyone came over to my place since it was the easiest to get to after school, so it naturally became a hangout spot for Danny and all of our friends. One time, we were playing a video game that we were all having difficulty with and we started to stress out. But Danny diffused the situation by making silly, witty jokes that we all laughed at. In the end, his diffusion got us killed in the game. It still was funny, though, and all of us just didn’t care about winning after.” – Justin Lum, a high school classmate
“At age 5, Danny Chen graduated from Chinatown Head Start, a non-profit pre-school program. We remember Danny’s bright smile and eagerness to help others. How happy Danny was when his mom brought lots of goodies to celebrate his birthday with his class. Ms. Chen cared deeply about his education; she was elected as President of our Policy Council. It is truly a tragedy that such unjust and intolerable hazing led to his death in the Army. His senseless death has brought great sadness to everyone close to him. Danny, we miss you. Your legacy and spirit continue at Chinatown Head Start.” – Sook Ling Lai, Executive Director of Chinatown Head Start
“My most memorable time with Danny is back in high school when we used to go over to Justin’s to play ‘Gears of War.’ He would say the funniest things during the game and we couldn’t hold back our laughter every time he said something. I still bring up the jokes he used to say, but the delivery of it never matches his.” – Jin Huang, a high school classmate
“A memorable moment of Danny was in our senior year of high school, in our college prep counselor’s room. We were doing college applications. When asked his college of choice, his response was to join the military. The counselor and I were both in disbelief. Given his academic excellence, he qualified for scholarships. Between college or the military, he chose the latter. Although Danny is no longer with us, he has done something many wouldn’t have the courage to do. He remains in our memories as an American hero, a patriot, and a redefinition of an Asian-American.” – Judy Hoang, a high school classmate
Photo: Danny Chen with his cousins. Photo courtesy of the Chen family.