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Including the Right Stuff in a Veteran’s Obituary

Writing an obituary can be challenging, but when your loved one was a veteran and their service was an important part of their life...

Writing an Obituary for a Veteran

Writing an obituary can be challenging, but when your loved one was a veteran and their service was an important part of their life, it can be even a little more difficult if you are unfamiliar with the language and customs of the military.

Gather Information

Like writing other obituaries, the first step is to gather information, according to end of life planning site Cake

You’ll want to find out: 

Information to Gather for a Veteran's Obituary

If you don’t have the information you need and you have enough time to wait for the response, the government does provide military service records by request.

Reference Military Titles Correctly

It is appropriate to reference a person by their rank even if they had retired from the military. Each rank has an appropriate abbreviation and ranks vary by branch. 

There was a time when obituaries were largely written by newspaper reporters and editors instead of family members and some of the guides journalists use can be of help when trying to determine the right way to reference a military title or unit. 

For example, the Associated Press Stylebook says to: 

  • Capitalize a military rank when used as a formal title. 
  • Use the appropriate title before the full name. 
  • Only use the last name in the following mentions. 
  • Use lowercase when the title is used to substitute for a name. 
  • They give the example: “Gen. John Jones is the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The general endorsed the idea.” 
  • The guide also says a retired officer’s rank can be used on the first reference if it is relevant but not to use the abbreviation “Ret.”

Even the military sometimes uses the AP style guide to make it easier on civilians to understand its publications. 

The AP style guide also has guidance around military units and says to use Arabic figures and capitalize key words when linking to the figures, for example, “1st Infantry Division” or “5th Battalion.”

Medals and Decorations

All of the branches of the military issue a number of medals and decorations to recognize service, achievements and accomplishments. The public service site lists them in order of importance. Similarly, a military obituary usually lists the awards in the order of their importance, as in this one for the late Sen. John McCain. “His military decorations include the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Star medals, two Purple Hearts and the Prisoner of War Medal.” 

Also, other guides remind writers that a medal is never “won” or “earned,” it is “awarded.” And the highest award, the Medal of Honor, should never be written as the “Congressional Medal of Honor.”

Getting Started

Obituaries for military personnel require a unique approach that can seem daunting if you’re unfamiliar with the process. Don’t worry – there are templates readily available to help get you started, such as these templates on Everloved and Love to Know. They can guide you structurally on what to include in your loved one's obituary and even offer suggestions on how to create a moving tribute.

Understanding how to handle a veteran’s decorations, rank and accomplishments in writing can help you craft an obituary that will properly pay tribute to their service to our country.

All our locations are staffed with experts in memorializing veterans. Find a nearby location and we'll help you through this process.

To learn about veteran's funeral traditions next, read our article: Everything You Need to Know About Veteran Funeral Traditions.