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Personalizing a Non-Issued Military headstone

Arlington National Cemetery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Arlington National Cemetery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Upright military headstone for United States Air Force Medal of Honor Recipient in grey granite.
Arlington National Cemetery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When memorializing a Veteran of the United States Military, family members have a couple of different options. The most affordable option is applying for a Government issued headstone, or grave marker, through The Department of Veteran Affairs. Government issued headstones and grave markers are uniform in style, and personalization options are limited.

Alternatively, family members have the option of having a private headstone designed by a monument builder, at their own expense. Private headstones can still feature the veterans rank and branch of service; and the VA offers medallions, for eligible veterans that served on or after April 6, 1917, that can be affixed to the headstone. It is not uncommon for family members to design a private headstone and still apply for the VA issued grave marker, to use as a footstone. Private headstones allow for greater customization and personalization. Below we are going to discuss a few of the different ways one can personalize a military headstone.

Military Headstone: Selecting a Design & Style

Choosing the style of the headstone is typically based on personal choice, budget, cemetery rules and how much room you would like for personalization. The most common types used are upright, flat, slant, and bevel. A bench style design is a great option for incorporating a VA issued headstone with a private headstone. This option provides visitors with a place to sit, while paying their respects, and is a nice personal touch that allows for more personalization.

In addition to selecting the style of the military headstone, you will need to choose the type of stone or material such as granite, marble, or bronze. Granite is the most popular natural stone option for headstones because, it is extremely durable and comes in a variety of colors. Selecting the granite headstone color is another way to further personalize the monument.

Military Headstone: Personal Additions

Adding onto the headstone, grave marker, or burial monument is another way to further personalize your veteran’s memorial. There are several ideas for personalizing a headstone, such as adding statues to the headstone or monument. Additionally, vases are another great option that provide visitors with a place to leave flowers, when they visit. The addition of a flag holder to the headstone or monument is one personal feature that is an especially great option for private military headstones.

Military Headstone: Custom Engraving & Epitaphs

Along with the name, dates, and epitaph a veteran’s headstone will include the rank they held when discharged and military branch they served with. Using their military photo would be a wonderful addition for family, friends, or other cemetery visitors to visually see while paying their respects. While serving your soldier might have received an award in the war, consider engraving the award they received Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and which war they were fighting at that time to showcase their merits.

Including an epitaph, or inscription, on the headstone is a great way to briefly describe the soldier and share a piece of their life story. This is certainly something that is optional however, many see it as being more expressive. You can take inspiration from a poem, movies, music, literature, and even make it funny, there is no right or wrong here. Below we’ve listed a few inscriptions that are great for military headstones.

  • “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember_____ (insert him or her)”
  • “No day shall erase you from the memory of time”
  • “A life of beauty and service”
  • “A day of duty done. A day of rest begun”
  • “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”- John 15:13
  • “_____ duty done, _____ honor won” (Insert His or Her)
  • “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith”- 2 Timothy 4:7
  • “Brave in spirit, strong in love”
  • “Duty, Honor, Country, well done, be thou at peace”
  • “At rest, a soldier and defender of the Constitution”

Personal, or private, military headstones are a great option that allow for greater personalization. Additional features such as flag holders, vases, photos, and epitaphs help to make the headstone even more personal and memorable. There are several options available for personal military headstones and they can even be combined with government issued headstones or grave markers.

Columbia Gardens Memorials proudly supports our military, if you are in the Arlington or Washington D.C. area, stop by or give us a call today at 703-527-7774. We would be happy to assist you with applying for a Government Issued Headstone and our friendly staff can assist you with any questions you may have regarding private military headstones, and the different options available.


COVID-19 Update

We are continuing to practice social distancing and following CDC guidelines, to protect our community and staff. However, we are open and available to serve you. Todd and our engravers are back on premises working and we are accepting appointments during our normal operating hours. To schedule an appointment with us please call our office at (703) 527-7774 or email us at

Thank you for your understanding during this time. – The Columbia Gardens Memorials Staff