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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Grief of a Gold Star mother


Gold Star group won't accept non-citizen


Mark Shields

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- The price of membership is measured in unimaginable grief. To qualify as an elite Gold Star mother, a woman's son or daughter must die while fighting in the ranks of the U.S. military service in the line of duty.

When Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, 26, (who had earlier served a four-year hitch in the U.S. Marine Corps) died fighting Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan last year, his mother, Ligaya Lagman of Eastchester, New York, not only suffered the loss every parent fears most, but she was later told that she was ineligible for admission into the sisterhood of shared consolation, the Gold Star Mothers. Why? Because Mrs. Lagman, a Filipino who has been a legal resident and taxpayer of this country since 1982, is not (unlike her late son, who was naturalized) an American citizen.

You figure it out. The best, current estimate is that there are approximately 69,300 foreign-born -- nearly one-fourth of whom were born in the Philippines -- currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. That number represents close to 5 percent of the U.S. active duty total. Of the first 10 Californians fighting in U.S. uniform killed in Iraq, five of them were not Americans.

But the group's charter, written some 77 years ago, says to be a Gold Star Mother, you must not only bury your child whose life was lost defending her country, you must be an American citizen.

"There's nothing we can do, because that's what our organization says," explains Ann Herd of Dallas, the national president of the Gold Star Mothers. "We can't go changing the rules every time the wind blows."

Former National President Dorothy Oxendine of Farmingdale, New York, disagrees: "There's no discrimination in a national cemetery. There's no discrimination when they get killed side by side. So how can we discriminate against a mother?"

Mrs. Lagman, whose late son earned the Bronze Star, has won backing for her cause from Sen. Hilary Clinton, D-New York, and New York's Republican Gov. George Pataki, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel of New York.

The Gold Star Mothers organization does much good. It welcomes and comforts the returning veterans, especially the wounded. It avoids any political involvement or tilt. But this time, in its inability or unwillingness to confront a serious wrong, the Gold Star Mothers' national leadership is tone-deaf and morally obtuse.

With recruiting quotas going unmet every month and with the reported reluctance of many American citizens to encourage or support their own children enlisting in the military, foreign-born volunteers will become even more urgently important. If and when these foreign-born patriots become casualties, they will be mourned by parents and aunts and uncles who love them and who, themselves, are probably not American citizens.

The questions to be answered remain: How much does a mother love the United States in order to give the nation her son? Has Ligaya Lagman not already made the maximum sacrifice? She has paid the price. She has borne the burden. Justice requires that she be granted the small consolation of membership in the Gold Star Mothers.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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