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Grieving Mother Denied Gold Star Membership

Scott Simon reflects on a mother's grief and a national organization's stance in the wake of her son's death. He was a U.S. Army sergeant killed in Afghanistan. His mother is not permitted to join the Gold Star Mothers because her son wasn't born in the United States.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Staff Sergeant Anthony Lagman of Yonkers, New York, died in Afghanistan in March 2004. People in Niamdo(ph), central Afghanistan, had told US troops that several Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters had holed up in their village, and they were scared. The US and Afghan armies launched a mission to capture the Taliban, and exulted when they found a high-level Taliban commander.

But Sergeant Lagman led a group into a giant mud fortress where they were told some Taliban were hiding among civilians. They turned a corner into an ambush. Anthony Lagman and his friend, Sergeant Michael Esposito, of Long Island, were killed. He was 27 years old and just two months away from going home. He'd been a soldier for 10 years.

Anthony Lagman was the third of four children in a family that came to New York from the Philippines in 1982. His mother says he loved cars, loud music and being a soldier. He asked his parents to let him join the Marines when he was 17, walking off the stage of his high school graduation with his diploma and into the recruiting office. He said he couldn't think of anything more important than to be a good soldier. Sergeant Lagman served four years in the Marines, a year in the Persian Gulf. He loved testing and bettering himself in training and the camaraderie among Marines.

When he came out, he went back home and became a doorman at a Manhattan hotel for about a month. He said he missed feeling useful. So he enlisted in the US Army's fabled 10th Mountain Division, a Filipino in a unit trained to fight in wintery mountain battlefields. He served a year in Bosnia and sent home money to pay his sister's nursing school tuition. Anthony Lagman told the Filipino Times before he left for Afghanistan, `I don't mind taking risks. This is what my country has trained me for.' Anthony Lagman's headstone says, `Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan.' He was awarded the Bronze Star for valor, and a street in Yonkers has been named after him. His mother, Ligaya Lagman, says, `We are proud, but we'd rather have him.'

This week, Ligaya Lagman was turned down for membership in The American Gold Star Mothers, an association of women whose sons and daughters have died in combat with the US armed services. The organization says that mothers must be US citizens to join. Ligaya Lagman is a permanent resident, but not a citizen. Dorothy Oxendine, a past president at The Gold Star Mothers, is outraged. About 5 percent of the men and women in uniform in harm's way are immigrants. `There's no discrimination when soldiers get killed side by side,' she says, `so how can we discriminate against a mother? You pay a high price to join The American Gold Star Mothers. I figure Mrs. Lagman's dues are paid.'

And it's 18 minutes past the hour.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small