Looking at veterans’ tombstones in one of 155 national cemeteries, one would think that all tombstones are more or less alike. However, once you step closer, you can notice they are all distinguished by the usage of military grave markers.
On the one hand, there are military grave markers related to the veteran’s service and ranking. On the other, there are personal belief military grave markers that have been gaining extra attention recently. It’s particularly interesting that new ones can be applied for approval. At the moment, there are 65 adopted personal belief military grave markers.
Now, let’s check out what was going on from the beginning and decipher some of the old and new markers.
A Recessed Shield Before WWI
For the US soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War and all the rest until WWI, the marble headstones had a recessed shield carved into the stone. It contained the soldier’s name, birth and death dates, and usually some abbreviations or acronyms telling the story about the rank or any awards they received during the service. Religious symbols are also present.
Also, it may carry a side note from the family members, i.e. “beloved husband, father, and grandfather”.
Old & New Military Grave Markers
Let’s take a look at some of the most usual ones and the ones that are not that typical. When it comes to religious belief grave markers, there is quite a choice nowadays.
Southern Cross of Honor — this is a typical military grave marker on the gravestones of Confederate soldiers. The tombstones are made of white marble and the Southern Cross of Honor is easily recognizable at its top.
Hammer of Thor — the emblem was approved as a tribute to the deceased’s Nordic background.
Dancing sandhill crane — this one was requested by the spouse of the deceased as they thought the bird represented happy marriage, wisdom, and protection, and it turned out to be quite popular! Once approved in 2015, there have been 300 requests to reproduce the crane for other tombstones.
Flag — a symbol of loyalty and liberty.
Flaming chalice — this is a Unitarian symbolsymbol, and it became very popular during the WWIIWWII. At that time, it became a symbol of refugees escaping Nazi persecution. However, unless the veteran served at that time, the symbol is probably a religious one, referring to Unitarian Universalism faith.
Lamb of God holding a flag — this is a religious symbol of the United Moravian Church, or Moravian Brethren. They are one of the oldest Protestant denominations, originating even before Luther’s Reformation.
Crossed Swords — they either represent a life lost in battle or a member of a higher rank.
Wiccan Pentacle — somewhat controversial (it was approved after a lawsuit in 2007), it stands as an emblem of belief.
Medicine Wheel – a symbol used by many Tribes is also approved. It’s not about medicine per se, but rather the Earth’s boundaries and the knowledge of the universe.
Horse — in the old days, this marker stood for cavalry.
Eagle — patriotism, courage, and generosity.
A — this emblem stands for an atheist. It is usually an A surrounded by rings, similar to the ones surrounding the molecular nucleus.
Kohanim Hands — two hands joined by thumbs stand for the Kohen, a descendent of the Jewish priestly class.
Druze — a five-pointed star stands for the belief in five cosmic principles.
Faravahar (Farohar) — a person emerging from a disc is a symbol of Zoroastrianism, an Iranian religion.
Star of David - a person who practiced Judaism
Christian Cross - a person of Christian descent who was involve din the community of Christ throughout their lifetime
Emblems of Belief Can Be Added
Should one find the list of available emblems of belief to be too narrow, they can apply for their symbol to be added to the list, i.e. the gravestone, provided all the conditions are met. Many world war veterans have military grave market symbols on their headstone, even if they are a government headstone placed to honor those who have fallen and served.
Extra Addition: Medallions and Medals
Besides military grave markers, it’s important to note a tombstone can also be decorated with a bronze medal of honor medallion, or a bronze medallion showing the folded Old Glory and a “veteran” inscription. The medallions are added by requestrequest, and they are made only for veterans that served on or after 6th April 1917.
Who Ensures that Veterans get the Right Military Grave Marker?
The National Cemetery Administration along with the Department of Veterans Affairs takes great care in ensuring those who have served have been honored with the proper military grave marker.
Are you interested in buying veteran or civil service grave markers? Check out our full list of grave markers.