Her nephew, Harry Lew, a 21-year-old Marine lance corporal who committed suicide in Afghanistan in April, was a victim of hazing, the California Democrat said.
"This must stop," she said, calling for congressional hearings on hazing in the military. "Too many patriotic young people, who only want to serve our country, are being harmed."
Since her nephew’s death, Chu said, she has received letters from others recounting their family’s own experiences with hazing in the military. "What was even more disturbing is the fact that they felt helpless in fighting it," she said, standing by a picture of a uniformed Lew with his family.
Lew underwent three hours and 20 minutes of hazing that included having to do push-ups, crunches and other exercises while wearing full body armor, according to Chu. Fellow Marines, reportedly angry that Lew fell asleep while on watch, poured sand on his face and into his mouth and kicked him and punched him, she added.
Shortly after the abuse, he shot himself to death. He wrote a note on his arm: "May hate me now, but in the long run this was the right choice I'm sorry my mom deserves to know the truth."
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said in an email: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Lew and Chu families and to all those in the military who have been affected by hazing and bullying.
"We agree with Rep. Chu that this behavior is inexcusable and completely at odds with our core values."
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, in a stern message to service members last month, said, "I will not tolerate any instance where one service member inflicts any form of physical or psychological abuse that degrades, insults, dehumanizes or injures another service member."
Chu and several other members of Congress said in a recent letter seeking congressional hearings that, although they welcomed Panetta’s condemnation of hazing, they were "shocked to learn that some of the services do not keep track of the number of hazing incidents and they don’t have policies in place to determine if their training and education about hazing is effective."
"While some services require new service members to undergo training about hazing during basic training, others do not," the letter says. "And it seems that there is no policy in place that prescribes a minimum appropriate response to hazing incidents to help correct a culture of hazing and prevent further incidents."
Lew’s sister, Carmen, called into the Capitol Hill news conference from her Santa Clara, Calif., home to say: "We want more than anything for justice to be done.... Harry’s death left a hole in our hearts. We want to make sure no other military family will have to suffer like we did."
Earlier this week, Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby was sentenced to 30 days in jail and reduction in rank after pleading guilty to assault in punching and kicking Lew.
Chu said that other hazing incidents and the "lack of justice in Harry’s case show that hazing is not taken seriously by the military... "
Two other Marines face courts-martial in connection with the incident.
-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Family photo of Lance Corporal Harry Lew.