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Dulce et Decorum Est

Every morning, on U.S. military bases around the globe, service members raise Old Glory during the Colors Ceremony. While “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, by live band or on compact disc, all present stand solemnly and watch the flag as it rises slowly toward the sky. Every aspect of the Ceremony, the music, the behavior of the participants and viewers, the slow care with which the the flag is actually hoisted, symbolizes the greatness of the nation that the service members protect.

During April 17-22, after each service member had hoisted the Flag to the pinacle of its post, he lowered it to half-mast, in honor of the dead at Virginia Tech–a tribute not accorded any of his brothers in arms who paid the ultimate price for the nation for which the Flag stands.

“I find it ironic that the flags were flown at half-staff for the young men and women who were killed at VT yet it is never lowered for the death of a U.S. servicemember,” wrote Sergeant Jim Wilt, from Afghanistan.

I find it more than ironic. I find it insulting to expect a U.S. service member to lower a Flag for civilians while knowing that it would not be lowered for him.

Sgt. Wilt asks, “Is the life of Sgt. Alexander Van Aalten, a member of our very own task force, killed April 20 in Helmand province not valued the same as these 32 students?”

Sgt. Van Aalten, of Tennessee, died after stepping on a mine during his second tour in Afghanistan. He had previously served in Iraq. He was 21 years old, similar in age to the Virginia Tech victims. “He loved serving his country,” his mother remembered.

The actions of spoiled cowards who burn U.S. service members in effigy notwithstanding, I don’t believe that any reasonable person would claim that the Sgt. Van Aalten’s life was less valuable than those of the Virginia Tech victims.

But that’s the message sent when service members are expected to honor civilian victims of violence in a way that they may not honor each other.

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