Tibetan-American Buried Among American War Heroes


2005.04.11
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RFA Tibetan service broadcaster Rinzin Choedon Dengkhim, mother of Lance Cpl. Tenzin Choeku Dengkhim, U.S. Marine killed in action in Iraq, is presented with the American flag. The burial was held Monday, April 11, 2005, at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: RFA.

ARLINGTON, Virginia—Marine Lance Cpl. Tenzin Choeku Dengkhim has been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, the first Tibetan-American to be buried at the site reserved for American war heroes.

Dengkhim, 19, died as a result of "hostile action" April 2, less than one month after deploying to Iraq, the Pentagon said. He is the first Tibetan-American killed while serving in the U.S. military.

Some 100 people, many of them Tibetan-Americans, stood silently under a brilliant April sun as U.S. Marines draped Dengkhim's coffin with a U.S. flag and fired three volleys in salute.

A lone bugler played "Taps", the Civil War melody that signals "lights out" at U.S. military installations and is traditionally played at all U.S. military funerals.

A half-dozen Tibetan Buddhist monks chanted prayers.

'Mother, don't worry'

"He said he knew everything that was going on in Iraq, the situation in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He also knew that the training would not be easy," his mother, RFA Tibetan service broadcaster Rinzin Choedon Dengkhim, said in her native Tibetan. "But he decided to go anyway."

When there was talk of his going to Iraq, he said, 'Mother, don’t worry—we are trained for war. Though Iraq is not our country and it may not directly be our war, the situation is quite similar to the situation in Tibet, where people do not have freedom of speech or enjoy human rights.'

"When there was talk of his going to Iraq, he said, 'Mother, don’t worry—we are trained for war. Though Iraq is not our country and it may not directly be our war, the situation is quite similar to the situation in Tibet, where people do not have freedom of speech or enjoy human rights.'"

In an interview last week, Dengkhim remembered her son as "a very good boy."

"He was a very good boy, deeply religious, and [he] talked of serving Tibet as a soldier after he completed his military career as U.S. Marine," Dengkhim's mother said last week.

"He was very devoted to his grandmother, who lives in Dharamsala [northern India]. He made sure that his grandmother was present at his Marine graduation ceremony."

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United States Marines hold the American flag over the casket of Lance Cpl. Tenzin Choeku Denghim as Tibetan monks pray in the background. Photo: RFA.

"He was very fond of playing basketball every Sunday with other Tibetans," she said.

From India to Utah and Virginia

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United States Marine Lance Cpl. Tenzin Choeku Dengkhim. Photo: RFA

Dengkhim graduated from George Marshall High School in Fairfax, Virginia, after moving with his mother and brother from Utah, where the family first settled in the 1990s.

Dengkhim, born in India in 1985, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on Sept. 14, 2003.

He had been on active duty in Iraq less than a month at the time of his death. He enlisted in hope of saving money for college, according to a family friend.

Idealistic youth

U.S. military officials said Dengkhim appeared to have been killed in hostile action near the city of Hadithah, in Iraq’s Anbar Province.

At a memorial service April 8, friends and relatives remembered Dengkhim as a kind youth who loved swimming and nature.

"Choeku’s dream was to help his country and his people through his experience in the armed forces of the United States," childhood friend Seldon Dekhang said, using Dengkhim’s nickname.

"Some may regard his aspirations as naïve, but Choeku's idealism and drive to pursue his dream despite the obvious dangers was gallant. Despite our sadness, [which] tinges almost every aspect of our day now, we are so proud of him for his bravery," Dekhang said.

State Department Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Paula Dobriansky and Rep. Frank Wolf, Republican from Virginia, attended Friday’s memorial service.

Dengkhim is survived by his mother and older brother, Tenzin Fende Dengkhim, of Massachusetts.

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Service director: Jigme Ngapo. Produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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