Military Tombstones

A Guide to Symbols, Acronyms & Abbreviations Found on Military Tombstones

Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia USA
Image Source/Getty Images

For many, the first introduction to an ancestor's military service is at the cemetery when they discover a flag or military marker next to their ancestor's grave, or an unknown acronym or image carved on the stone.

Common Military Abbreviations

Many tombstones of soldiers who served in wars from the Civil War to the present include details on the unit in which they served. The abbreviations can be a bit confusing for those who aren't familiar with military jargon, however.

United States - Military Abbreviations - Ranks, Units & Awards
Australia - Military Abbreviations & Terminology
Canada - Military Abbreviations, Terms and Meanings
Germany - Glossary of Germany military terms and abbreviations

Tombstone Symbols May Indicate Military Service

While the abbreviations that reference a unit and war are usually fairly obvious, other abbreviations and symbols can also indicate military service. From the intricate eagle of the Grand Army of the Republic to crossed swords, symbols can sometimes offer a clue, either directly or indirectly, to military service. Symbols of military accoutrements such as a rifle, sword or shield can often indicate military service, for example. Just remember that the meaning of a symbol is usually only known to the person who chose to place it on the grave marker, and may not always mean what we might expect.

Flag - liberty and loyalty. Often seen on military markers.
Stars & Stripes around an Eagle - Eternal vigilance and liberty. Often seen on U.S. military markers.
Sword - often indicates military service. When found on the base of the stone might indicate infantry.

Crossed swords - May indicate a military person of high rank or a life lost in battle.
Horse - May indicate calvalry.
Eagle - courage, faith and generosity. May indicate military service.
Shield - Strength and courage. May indicate military service.
Rifle - often indicates military service.
Cannon - generally indicates military service.

When found on the base of the stone it may indicate artillery.

Acronyms for Military Groups & Veterans Organizations

A variety of acronyms, such as GAR, DAR and SCV may also indicate military service or membership in a veteran's organization. These listed here are U.S. organizations.

CSA - Confederate States of America
DAR - Daughters of the American Revolution
GAR - Grand Army of the Republic
SAR - Sons of the American Revolution
SCV - Sons of Confederate Veterans
SSAWV - Sons of Spanish American War Veterans
UDC - United Daughters of the Confederacy
USD 1812 - Daughters of the War of 1812
USWV - United Spanish War Veterans
VFW - Veterans of Foreign Wars