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Army Charges 8 in Wake of Death of a Fellow G.I.

Saturday, December 24 2011, 6:43 PM

Hamson McPherson senior
Hamson McPherson, father of a Marine by the same name who died under mysterious circumstances while stationed in Japan, shows photo of his son outside his Staten Island home.

Danny Chen and Hamson Daniels McPherson grew up separated by New York Harbor and died just months apart under mysterious circumstances while serving their country.

Chen, 19, was an Army private from the lower East Side.

McPherson, 21, was a Marine private from Staten Island.

Both their deaths were initially ruled suicides.

And both men, their families claim, were driven to the brink by racist hazing and abuse inflicted on them by comrades in arms.

“White Marines kept calling him a cotton-picking n-----,” said the Marine’s dad, who is also named Hamson McPherson. “They made his life hell.”

While Chen’s death in Afghanistan has sparked outrage and led to the arrests of eight soldiers, McPherson said all he has gotten is the runaround from the Pentagon since his son died in May while stationed in Japan.

McPherson, the military insists, doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze.

“I don’t believe he committed suicide,” the dad said. “My son was a big, strong guy. Somebody did this to him.”

The grieving dad believes a bar fight his son had with a white Marine last year — which resulted in his son being demoted from corporal — led to his death.

“When this happened, I told my son, ‘You got a problem on your hands,’ ” he recalled. “It’s not over with. These guys are going to snake you.”

Born and raised in the New Brighton section, the strapping 6-foot-3 Marine played defensive end at Curtis High School before enlisting.

Sent to Okinawa, McPherson called home regularly and complained to his dad, sister Danielle and friends about the racist treatment he and other black Marines endured.

“Basically, people were saying racist stuff to him,” McPherson’s 18-year-old sister, Danielle, said. “It was happening all the time. His best friend told me they would video chat and he could see people (in the background) messing with him.”

McPherson finally snapped on May 1 and set himself on fire, the Marines said. He died 19 days later at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Investigators say there were two witnesses, including one who helped put out the fire.

“I didn’t believe that story,” Hamson McPherson said. “It doesn’t make sense. Why, with all the guns around, would somebody light themself on fire.”

His suspicions only grew when a military investigator named Kevin O’Brien knocked on his door on Aug. 4 bearing what he claimed was the Marine’s suicide note.

It said, the dad recalled, “I am sorry for the wrong that I’ve done please forgive me for all my sins. I can’t take this s--- no more man.”

The note closed with a line from the “Toy Story” movies, “To infinity and beyond.”

“I didn’t believe my son wrote it,” Hamson McPherson said. “It wasn’t his handwriting. And he called his sister Danielle. He always called her Moki.”

O’Brien wouldn’t let them make a copy of the note and wasn’t interested in seeing a copy of his son’s handwriting, the dad said.

Neither O’Brien nor his superiors returned calls for comment.

“This situation is more ambiguous than the Danny Chen situation,” said veterans’ rights lawyer Tod Ensign, who is advising the McPherson family.

They have received no updates on the investigation since O’Brien’s visit and have appealed to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for help, Ensign said.

A Gillibrand spokesman confirmed they are looking into the case.