This Memorial Day was a farce. Sure, there were many local parades honoring veterans, and President Bush read from letters written by service members who never came home from Iraq or Afghanistan. They were cookie-cutter types of events — moving, emotional and good for television. What we didn’t hear about was the story of Ligaya Lagman — the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan — and how she has been barred from admission into The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.
According to the organization’s Web site, the phrase “Gold Star Mothers” originated from President Wilson’s 1918 approval of the wearing of “a black band on the left arm with a gilt star” in remembrance of family members who had given their lives in service to their country. The motto of this group, whose membership is estimated to be fewer than 2,000, is, “Honor the dead by serving the living.”
This group of mothers accomplishes their mission by volunteering at veteran’s medical facilities, assisting with disability claims and, in general, providing a network for those who experience the devastating loss of a son or daughter who is serving their country.
These, and the group’s other objectives are all noble, but did I mention that a pre-requisite to membership is American citizenship?
Ligaya Lagman immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1983. She is a permanent resident of this country, paying taxes and residing in Yonkers, N.Y. In March of last year, her son, Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, an American citizen, was killed in an ambush in Afghanistan.
A recipient of the Bronze Star for valor, Anthony showed his depth of character when, before deploying, he was quoted by the Filipino Times as saying, “I don’t mind taking risks. This is what my country trained me for.” Despite being buried with full military honors, Anthony’s mother has been denied admittance into an organization whose membership dues no mother would like to pay.
Although The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. is a private organization, the decision by the 12-member executive board to exclude Ligaya Lagman at the least seems like bad public relations and, at worst, smacks of elitism. We have enough divisive points over the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The bottom line is that some support the president’s invasion and others don’t, but service members are nonetheless called on to carry out their duty.
Do we now want to divide war causalities based on how “American” they are? Staff Sgt. Lagman voluntarily decided to fight for a country in which he was not born. His life and ultimate death is no less significant than the others who are buried at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island.
If the name “American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.” sounds familiar, it’s probably because they have been in the news before. In a 2001 story, NewsMax reported that two members of this organization had been visiting Senate offices in Washington and the only office that “refused to meet with the Gold Star Mothers was none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton.” While that story has since been proven to be an urban myth, the unfortunate case of Ligaya Lagman is not.
This tragic situation could have been resolved if the organization recognized flaw in its requirement of U.S. citizenship and sought to change their rules. As NY Rep. Eliot Engel rightly stated, the “decision smacks of xenophobia and is in stark contrast to what Mrs. Lagman’s son fought and died for.”
Unfortunately, the intransigence from Ann Herd, national president of The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., has been expressed in such statements as, “There’s nothing we can do. We can’t go changing the rules every time the wind blows.” Not surprisingly, after these comments and due to intense and unwanted media scrutiny, Mrs. Lagman has withdrawn her application for admittance into the organization.
There is some good that can come out of such an injustice. The great thing about a term of office is that it eventually comes to an end. Ann Herd’s term ends this month. Equally promising is that the new president, Judith Young of Moorestown, N.J., has indicated a willingness to change the rules and allow foreign-born mothers entry into their organization.
Perhaps with the addition of some foreign-born mothers, the stalwarts in The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. can learn the history of sacrifice and inclusiveness in this diverse country. After all, aren’t the majority of us immigrants anyway?
Aaron Hill is a juniormajoring in firstname.lastname@example.org