Sunday, May 29, 2005

Update on Gold Star Moms

Following a suggestion at Major K's site, I sent an e-mail to the Gold Star Moms expressing my opinion that they should rethink their decision to deny membership to Ligaya Lagman, a non-citizen whose son was killed while in the US military in Afghanistan. Just so there's no confusion, here's the text of the e-mail I sent, in its entirety:

::::::::To the Board,

Ladies, you're doing yourselves a serious disservice by not changing your rules to allow non-citizen mothers of US soldiers membership in your organization. Assuming she still wants to be a member, you should apologize and admit Ligaya Lagman immediately. This stubborn adherence to a ruling virtually no one in the public is supporting is eliminating all the good your organization has done or will ever do. You will be painted as arrogant and not truly supportive of the people you claim to be standing for.

I'm not a mother nor am I a parent of a member of our military. I'm just a bystander hoping you'll not destroy yourselves over something so obvious. Take the advice or leave it.

Good Luck,

Ric James
::::::::

Within seconds I received an automated reply, the text of which I am also going to reproduce here since it's an e-mail and I can't link to it otherwise:

::::::::Please visit our Press Release temporarily located at http://www.goldstarsiblings.com/goldstarmothers.html.

Also note: The Associated Press has just released a follow up article relating to this story, which is also linked on this page.
::::::::

OK, fair enough. Before sending the e-mail, I had already checked the Mom's web site to see if they had posted a release on it, and they hadn't. Note that the link here goes to Gold Star Siblings, not to the Mom's site. The release says that their web site is maintained by a volunteer, a Vietnam vet who is unavailable due to the Memorial Day holiday. Fair enough. May I suggest the Mom's start a blog that can be added to and edited without the assistance of a web-development saavy individual? These things happen, though, and kudos to the Gold Star Sibs for helping the Moms out.

The release itself is no short, 1-paragraph item. After a quick summary about what the "gold star" lapel pin is, they launch right into the matter:

::::::::As to the accusation that Mrs. Lagman’s application was denied does not tell the complete story. The application for membership with American Gold Star Mothers was received by the Department of New York. It was not completed or signed by the applicant, nor did it have the required copy of the death certificate and the payment of the first years dues. There were several inaccuracies on the application as to the dates required. A certified letter was mailed to Mrs. Lagman requesting the application be completed in full and returned for approval. To date, we have not heard from Mrs. Lagman, nor have we received any form of communication to the status of her membership application.

To say that the application has been denied is not an accurate statement.
::::::::

OK, these are all legitimate concerns. After all, an application that isn't even signed can't be authenticated back to the individual in question. You'd like to think it would never happen in this case, but I can't say there aren't people who wouldn't make an application for someone whose son isn't dead just to stick a red-hot poker into the back of a woman they had some kind of beef with. And if this were the end of the situation - that the Moms had declined the application because it wasn't complete - then I'd be offering a retraction of my previous comments on the matter. Unfortunately, it's not the end of it. Further on down the release, we get this:

::::::::In the article there is mention to the fact that the membership board voted and discriminated against Mrs. Lagman. It was not a vote taken for membership, nor a change in the constitution. It was only from an outside source that the discussion took place regarding an upcoming applicant situation, and at that time, the board decided not to make an exception to the rule without proper investigation.::::::::

Now, wait a minute. If the Moms weren't really "denying" the membership - if all they were doing was returning an incomplete application with an invitiation to resubmit it - then what's the vote on the exception to the rule for? In the referenced AP story titled, "New Leader Says Gold Star May Change Rules," they confirm what the current president said in response to the question on the matter:

::::::::"There's nothing we can do because that's what our organization says: You have to be an American citizen," [current president Ann] Herd said Thursday. "We can't go changing the rules every time the wind blows."

[National Service Officer Judith C.] Young said that the national board did not specifically vote on Lagman's application, but rather, "We only voted not to make an exception to the rule we already have as to citizenship."
::::::::

But earlier in the article, Young basically says they can't vote such an exception in:

::::::::But Young said the change must be proposed in an amendment from a mother or chapter, then be voted on by all members. "It's not something you just Wite-Out or change overnight," she said.::::::::

Begging your pardon, Ms. Young, but it sounds to me like your board can, indeed, make such a change - an exception - overnight, if they choose to. They chose not to. That takes the onus back off the application and puts it back onto the board. So which is it? Can the board make an exception or not? If they can, what's the possible justification for not doing so? The release ends with the traditional non-apology apology:

::::::::The Executive Board would like to take this opportunity to apologize for anything taken out of its context in the dissemination of information while being investigated by the media and improperly reported. They would also appreciate the time to seek a remedy to this situation and handle it internally so that the best interests of all, and to future Mothers, can be addressed. ::::::::

I don't see a damned thing taken "out of context" here. The issue isn't why the application was made, or whether it was complete. No one's going to have an issue with the Moms not granting an incomplete application or not accepting one without the dues, etc., etc., etc. But when an issue of this magnitude comes up and you get an organization's president - their president, for Pete's sake - tossing off a snippy comment about not being able to change the rules "every time the wind blows" then stubborness and arrogance is, indeed, the issue, and there was no mistaken reporting about that. I stand by my comments. The Moms need to make this change, if they still want to claim to be serving their membership of mothers of American soliders, and they need to apologize to Ms. Lagman. One can only hope that their new president is more adept at public speaking and more compassionate of spirit than their current leadership has proven to be.