Veteran Grave Marker Styles

On this page, I want to share with you some of the different types and styles of veteran grave markers that have been provided by the Veteran’s Affairs department of the National Cemetery Administration.  This information on this page was sourced from a video made by Trae Zipperer, founder of  To see his video, click on this link.

This information is not all-inclusive of every detail of military veteran headstone design changes that you may encounter, but will serve to acquaint you to the major changes.

The first veteran grave markers were made of wood.  Obviously, the life expectancy of a wooden marker was only a few years and periodic replacement costs for hundreds of thousands of deceased veterans drove the adoption of stone memorials at national cemeteries.

In 1873, the first Civil War-type white marble headstones were approved.  They were narrower and shorter than the headstones we see today, but the overall shape and proportions carry through to the present day.

(From “...the department adopted a slab design of marble or durable stone four inches thick, 10 inches wide and 12 inches in height extending above the ground.  The part above the ground was polished and the top slightly curved.  The number of the grave, rank, name of the soldier and the name of the state were cut on the front face.”)

The image to the right illustrates this Union soldier veteran headstone.  Notice the sunken shield with has raised lettering known as bas-relief.

There was no provision for a religious symbol at the top center of the headstone.  Birth date and death date are also not included in this design.

In addition to marking the graves of Union soldiers and sailors, this same design with the sunken shield was used for veterans who had served in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War.


In 1902, a study was done as to determine the durability of the type of headstone then in use.  That study resulted in a design change which was implemented in 1903.  The height of the stone was increased to 39 inches, the width to 12 inches, and the thickness to four inches.  

A big change happened in 1906 when Congress authorized veteran headstones for Confederate soldiers and sailors.  The sunken shield was removed (because that was a Union symbol) and the curve at the top was replaced with a point.

In the image to the right, the curved grey line represents the veteran’s name, and the straight gray lines represent information related to the veteran’s military unit.

In 1930, another change was made to the Confederate headstone design when the Southern Cross of Honor was authorized by the War Department to be inscribed at the top of each Confederate headstone.  The Southern Cross of Honor was designed in 1899 by the Daughters of the Confederacy as a medal to be worn by Confederate veterans.


Following the end of World War I, General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing helped design an improved general veteran headstone. The dimensions were increased to 42" high by 13" wide by 4" thick.

This redesign marked the point at which religious symbols could be included on the headstone. They were positioned at the top center of the headstone’s face. At first, there were just two symbols from which to choose: The Christian cross, and the Jewish Star of David.

Like the Confederate headstone, the sunken shield was deleted. On the face of the stone were etched the veteran's name, State, Rank, military unit, and date of death.

In 1941, granite was approved as a natural material for the general design upright veteran headstone. They only used granite for six years, discontinuing its use in 1947 due to higher cost versus traditional white marble. Granite veteran headstones were reintroduced in 1994.

It wasn't until 1944 that 'World War I' was authorized to be etched onto veteran headstones, so for WWI veterans who died between 1918 and 1943 you will not find World War I etched on those veteran's headstones.

Also in 1944, the date of birth and war period were added to veteran headstones.

At some point after 1944, lines of personal text became authorized, 15 characters per line and up to 4 lines.


Ground-level stone grave markers

Because some cemeteries allow only ground-level grave markers, this white marble veteran grave marker design was approved in 1936. It measures 24" wide by 12", and is 4" thick.

The inscriptions are the same as a what would be on a headstone, just proportioned differently.

Notice the inscription on the pictured marker includes, “In Memory Of.” This means the body of the veteran in not buried here. This particular veteran was a sailor and his ship was sunk during WW2. He went down in his ship, forever to be entombed there. This marker, then, is used to memorialize him as if his remains were buried at this site.

In 1939, granite was authorized to be used for grave markers instead of marble because granite is a harder stone and resists erosion better then marble, and polished granite resists the growth of biological organisms better than marble.

Ground-level bronze grave markers

In 1940, bronze veteran grave markers were approved for use.  These are the same size as the marble and granite grave markers at 24" wide by 12". These bronze veteran grave markers need to be set upon a base stone of concrete, marble, or granite.

In 1973, the original plain-edge design of the bronze marker design was replaced with a new design that has a decorative beveled edge, and the background has a textured surface.  Another notable change with this redesign was relocating the religious symbol to the bottom of the marker between the birth and death dates.

Another option for a bronze grave marker is mounting it to an above-ground stone if the cemetery permits them.  There is no prescribed angle, so you can see them from slightly angled to full vertical.

The last veteran grave marker to show here is called a Veterans Bronze Niche Plaque, and is intended to be used when interring cremated remans.  Typically, those remains will be in an urn and will be in a small niche in a wall, therefore a much smaller plaque is necesary for the smaller soace on which to mount it.

However, it is optional with the family how to use this plaque and you can find it on family-purchased gravestones because the family wants a different style gravestone than what is provided by the VA, but the small plaque still commemorates the veteran's service.

This page was developed by Herb Klug       Updated September 11, 2022
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