I started working on this post November 16th after seeing too many cases on Find-A-Grave and BillionGraves where people were not aware of the V. A. guidelines on acronyms/initials/abbreviations. This was before finding out my brother-in-law had passed away on November 15th. I included the links to the V. A. website’s links and PDFs for the most common abbreviations at the bottom of this post.
Word of caution: a veteran has to be a qualifying veteran to qualify for burial in a V. A. cemetery or receive a headstone if they are buried elsewhere.
The above may apply to other countries’ military headstones as well. It may also apply to non-military headstones. I will give some examples below of acronyms and initials that don’t necessarily mean what you think they may mean.
Be aware the next paragraph (not the quoted section below) may complicate your search for a U. S. veteran in ways that you may not know. For example, the V. A. cemetery system only covers certain veterans. The prior to 1997 notice only applies to veterans who received V. A. headstones and not buried in a cemetery covered by the V. A. grave locator system. I am going to include several links that will be PDFs from the V. A. website.
The database of burial information is updated each day.
Search for burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker.
The Nationwide Gravesite Locator includes burial records from many sources. These sources provide varied data; some searches may contain less information than others. Information on veterans buried in private cemeteries was collected for the purpose of furnishing government grave markers, and we do not have information available for burials prior to 1997.
Erroneous information can be corrected, but we are unable to add to the information contained in the existing record.
If your search returns incorrect information about a veteran or family member buried in a national cemetery, please contact the cemetery directly to discuss your findings.
To report incorrect information about a veteran buried in a private cemetery, click on “Contact Us” at the top of this page. Names cannot be added to the listing if a government grave marker was not furnished for the grave, or if the existing government grave marker was furnished prior to 1997.
The V. A. has several lists of acronyms for military headstones, but it isn’t the only U. S. military cemetery system – United States National Cemetery System – Tombstone Tuesdays July 16, 2019 (over 7,000 words), but the condensed version is the Army has a fair number of cemeteries, the National Park Service (NPS) has a handful, State Veteran cemeteries (may or may not receive V. A. funding), and the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) have a fair number – mostly overseas. In addition, it has a good list of religious symbols used, but it’s incomplete. I found one that wasn’t on the V. A. list, and used a description of the symbol was able to track it down. It was replaced by a different symbol at some point later.
For example USA on an American military headstone is not usually United States of America, but instead stands for United States Army. SPAM is Spanish American War. SAW is probably Spanish American War as the other possibility is Squad Assault Weapon.
Numerous links and PDFs from the V. A. website:
Eligibility for a Headstone or Marker: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/eligibility.asp
General headstone guidelines: https://www.cem.va.gov/hmm/index.asp
VA Form 40-1330, Claim for Standard Government Headstone or Marker (normally needed if you are requesting a headstone for a veteran who is buried in a cemetery that’s not part of the V. A. system. Note: the V. A. does not pay for setting the headstone in these cases. The cost of setting a headstone can range from $50 to over $1,000, price determined by the cemetery. Some cemeteries will offer free or reduced setting fees for veterans.
Order a Headstone, Marker or Medallion for a Veteran Buried in a Private Cemetery: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/order_instructions.asp
Types of Headstones, Markers and Medallions Available: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/types.asp
Replacement Headstones and Markers: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/replacements.asp
Pre-World War I Era Headstones and Markers: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/pre_WWI_era.asp
Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/emblems.asp
Lastly, several links to acronyms and abbreviations:
Headstone and Marker Inscription Abbreviations: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/abbreviations.asp
The following lists provide the most commonly inscribed abbreviations placed on Government-furnished headstones and markers: