- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — A Jamaica-born woman whose U.S. Marine son died fighting in Iraq has been welcomed into the American Gold Star Mothers, which had banned noncitizens for the first 77 years of its existence.

Within an hour, Carmen Palmer was enthralling fellow members with a moving description of her son’s devotion to the United States, “which he chose to be his country.”

Mrs. Palmer, of Mount Vernon, learned that her application had been accepted when she arrived Wednesday night for the screening of a film dedicated to women who have lost children in combat.

Judith Young, president of the Washington-based American Gold Star Mothers Inc., was also at the screening and said she had just processed the first two applications from noncitizens since the organization’s rules were changed in June.

One was Mrs. Palmer’s and the other was from a California woman whose name Miss Young did not recall.

“I’m glad Mrs. Palmer has joined us,” Miss Young said. “I hope she feels accepted.”

Mrs. Palmer, whose 22-year-old son, Marine Cpl. Bernard Gooden, was killed in 2003, said she was grateful.

“It was unfair to deny us,” she said. “Our children were not asked about our citizenship before they died.”

Women who lose children in combat are popularly known as Gold Star mothers, but membership in the American Gold Star Mothers, who support each other and do service work for veterans, is by application.

The rules change followed protests after it was disclosed that another New Yorker, whose son died serving in Afghanistan, had been rejected because she was not a citizen. That woman, Philippines-born Ligaya Lagman, of Yonkers, withdrew her application.

Ann Herd, then president of American Gold Star Mothers, said at the time: “There’s nothing we can do because that’s what our organization says. You have to be an American citizen. We can’t go changing the rules every time the wind blows.”

The organization was criticized by politicians, including New York Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, and Rep. Nita M. Lowey and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrats, who pointed out that many members of the armed services are noncitizens.

Miss Lagman’s son, 27-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, was a U.S. citizen. Mrs. Palmer’s son, who joined the Marines in hopes of saving money for college, was not.

“The charter was written 77 years ago, and we’re in the next generation, I realize that,” Miss Young said.

The movie screened Wednesday night, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” by Paul Schneeberger, is a fictional and supernatural account of a woman whose memories of her son, a Vietnam War casualty, are fading as she sinks into Alzheimer’s disease.

In a discussion after the film, Mrs. Palmer recalled that her son played soldier as he grew up on coffee and banana plantations.

“I blame myself sometimes,” she said. “I should have given him the money to go to school instead of having him go to the Marines to earn it.”

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