A Jamaica (search)-born woman whose U.S. Marine son died fighting in Iraq has finally been welcomed into the American Gold Star Mothers (search), which had banned non-citizens for the first 77 years of its existence.
Within an hour she was enthralling fellow members with a moving description of her son's devotion to America, "which he chose to be his country."
Carmen 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, was also at the screening and said she had just processed the first two applications from non-citizens since the organization's rules were changed in June.
One was Palmer's and one was from a California woman whose name Young did not recall.
"I'm glad Mrs. Palmer has joined us," Young said. "I hope she feels accepted."
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 group has 933 members, Young said.
The rules change followed a firestorm of protest after it was disclosed that another New Yorker, whose son died for the U.S. 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 the American Gold Star Mothers Inc., 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 immediately came under criticism from politicians including Gov. George Pataki, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), who pointed out that many members of the armed services are non-citizens.
Lagman's son, 27-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, was a U.S. citizen. Palmer's son, who joined the Marines in hopes of saving money for college, was not.
Young, who was about to become president of the organization, said, "The charter was written 77 years ago, and we're in the next generation, I realize that. Things have changed, times have changed, people have changed."
The movie screened Wednesday night, "Twilight's Last Gleaming," by Paul Schneeberger, is a fictional and somewhat 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, Palmer described her son's playing soldier as he grew up on coffee and banana plantations and said, "I can see myself all over this film."
"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."