WASHINGTON – A U.S. soldier says it's ironic that American flags were flown at half-staff for victims lost in the Virginia Tech shooting rampage last week since "it is never lowered" when U.S. service members are killed in action.
President Bush issued a flag proclamation last week after a lone gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, killed 32 people in the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.
Army Sgt. Jim Wilt, the author of an internal Defense Department opinion piece that was briefly released to the public on Monday, questioned why flags are not lowered for fallen service members like Sgt. Alexander Van Aalten, a member of Wilt's task force who was killed on April 20.
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"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. service member," Wilt wrote in a posting from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where the U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff to honor the slain Virginia Tech students.
Wilt said the loss of a service member hits "closer to home" since many people have a family member or know someone in the military, but that may be why each death gets less attention.
"People have come to expect casualty counts in the nightly news; they don't expect to see 32 students killed," Wilt wrote.
Wilt's piece was not meant for the public eye, but leaked out from an internal Army site, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan said.
The official said the release was mistakenly submitted under the Combined Joint Task Force 82 banner as a news release though it was intended to have been a release for U.S. Department of Defense internal information media as an opinion piece, representing the views of an individual American soldier.
The spokesman told FOX News that Wilt is a true patriot and a dedicated paratrooper, and added that soldiers are free to express their personal views as long as they are represented as their opinions and not those of the military.
Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, who works with Wilt at the U.S.-led coalition public affairs office, said the essay is a "soldier's commentary, not the view of the coalition and not the view of the U.S. forces." Welch added that such outspoken opinion pieces are rare.
Wilt did not diminish the "shock factor of the Virginia massacre," but said fallen service members need to be honored, too.
"I think it is sad that we do not raise the bases' flag to half-staff when a member of our own task force dies," Wilt wrote. "I can understand not lowering flags across the country for the death of a single service member. But shouldn't the service member's state lower the flag to show their respect to the fallen trooper, if only for one day? Some states do, but not all of them."
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said that the flags of all its troop-contributing nations are flown at half-staff for about 72 hours after a service member's death "as a mark of respect when there is an ISAF fatality."
Wilt noted that hundreds of thousands of men and women have died on behalf of the flag.
"When we honor the flag by saluting it, we are honoring what it stands for. We honor freedom, the people it represents and a way of life," he wrote.
FOX News' Nick Simeone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.