United States Department of Veterans Affairs emblems for headstones and markers

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The U.S. Veterans Affairs seal.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) maintains many cemeteries specifically devoted to veterans. Most have various rules regarding what must take place in order to be interred there.


The VA only permits graphics on government-furnished headstones or markers that are approved emblems of belief, the Civil War Union Shield (including those who served in the U.S. military through the Spanish–American War), the Civil War Confederate Southern Cross of Honor, and the Medal of Honor insignia. Arlington National Cemetery has similar restrictions on headstones, though it is maintained by US Department of the Army.

The religious symbols are rendered as simple inscriptions without sculptural relief or coloring other than black. The emblem of belief is an optional feature.[1]

Generally the VA adds a new symbol a few months after receiving a petition from a faith group.[2] However, the Wiccan symbol was only added in 2007 to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of several families by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in November 2006.[2][3][4] A separate parallel lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Wiccan churches and three families by the American Civil Liberties Union in September 2006, which was resolved by the same settlement.[5][6][7]

The first interfaith headstone, which includes a Wiccan pentacle for Jan Deanna O'Rourke and a Presbyterian Cross for her husband, was installed at Arlington National Cemetery on May 1, 2007, and dedicated on July 4, 2007.[8]

Headstone and marker symbols[edit]

The following emblems and emblem numbers are publicized as available for government headstones and markers as of February 2021.[9] A process is in place to consider approving additional religious or belief system emblems requested by the families of individuals eligible for these headstones and markers.[9]

Each emblem is given its official USVA name and designation, with added additional links for related symbolism (*) and for related movements (†).


Some symbols' meanings are not immediately apparent; they are explained below.

  • 57 — SANDHILL CRANE: the sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis) was used by Linda Campbell, the first homosexual soldier to receive burial rights for a same-sex spouse; it was said to symbolize "the ability of a soul to move between worlds, realms, times, traditions, and elements."[13][14][15]
  • 63 — AFRICAN ANCESTRAL TRADITIONALIST (Nyame Ye Ohene): an Adinkra symbol; the name is Akan for "God is King."
  • 70 — SHEPHERD AND FLAG: Depicts a German shepherd and American flag[16]
  • 98 — FIVE-POINTED STAR: represents the Five Pillars of Islam[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Arlington National Cemetery > Funerals > Scheduling a Funeral > Headstones and Niche Covers > Government Headstone/Niche Covers". White marble niche covers (15¾ x 11¼ x ¼) generally contain 11 lines of text with or without an optional emblem of belief.
  2. ^ a b Banerjee, Neela (April 24, 2007). "Use of Wiccan Symbol on Veterans' Headstones Is Approved". The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2013. The VA added emblem of belief #37 – "WICCA (Pentacle)".
  3. ^ "Veterans Affairs Department Must Accommodate Wiccan Symbol On Memorial Markers At Government Cemeteries, Says Americans United" (Press release). AU. June 8, 2006. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  4. ^ "Stewart v. Nicholson". AU. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
  5. ^ "Veterans Denied Right to Post Religious Symbol on Headstones, ACLU Charges" (Press release). ACLU. September 29, 2006. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  6. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (September 30, 2006). "Pagans Sue on Emblem for Graves". The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  7. ^ "Veterans Win Right to Post Religious Symbol on Headstones" (Press release). ACLU. April 23, 2007. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  8. ^ Blackwell, Christopher (2007). "A First Dedication at Arlington". Action. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
  9. ^ a b National Cemetery Administration (2013-07-03). "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers – National Cemetery Administration". Cem.va.gov. Retrieved 2013-08-24.
  10. ^ Brownlee, John (July 9, 2013). "How Thor's Hammer Made Its Way Onto Soldiers' Headstones". Fast Company Design.
  11. ^ Francis, Mike (July 1, 2013). "Coming to VA cemetery headstones: the Sandhill Crane". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 20, 2013. The VA added emblem of belief #57 – "Sandhill Crane".
  12. ^ "Religious Design Gallery / 040-Islamic 5-Pointed Star". Family Bronze.
  13. ^ Oregonian/OregonLive, Mike Francis | The (July 2, 2013). "Coming to VA cemetery headstones: the Sandhill Crane". oregonlive.
  14. ^ "The Stories Behind The Symbols On Vets' Headstones". NPR.org.
  15. ^ "VA Headstones Now Include Thor, Crane, Bicycle? – God and Country".
  16. ^ Desk, News (October 16, 2020). "Families Express Grief After Gravesite Memorabilia is Removed".
  17. ^ "VA Emblems of Belief Flashcards". www.flashcardmachine.com.

External links[edit]