How to Write a Veteran’s Obituary

If your loved one’s military service was important to them, you may want to share the details of their experience in an obituary.

Like writing other obituaries, the first step is to gather information, according to our friends at Cake. You’ll want to find out:

  • When they served
  • Where they served
  • Which conflicts they participated in
  • What branch of the military they served in
  • What rank they achieved
  • Any decorations received

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.

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 written by newspaper reporters and editors instead of families 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 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.”

All of the branches of the military issue a number of medals and decorations to recognize service, achievements and accomplishments. The public service site military-ranks.org lists them in order of importance. Similarly, a military obituary usually lists the awards in the order of 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.”

You can find templates to help get you started at many websites including Everloved and Love to Know.

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.

Photo: Sydney Rae

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