Writing anyone’s obituary is a major responsibility. So, you want to make sure you accurately and thoroughly honor a loved one who has passed away.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Gather Information
- Step 2: Conducting Quick Interviews
- Step 3: Start Writing With Inspiration From Veteran Obituary Examples
This is particularly true when the person you’re writing an obituary for was a veteran. The vast majority of the time, anyone penning a veteran’s obituary will touch on their military service.
Although this is a pretty big task, you don’t need to stress. This guide will help you better understand how to write an obituary that covers all the important points and successfully honors the personal sacrifices a veteran made during their life.
For more help with post-loss tasks and challenges, check out our post-loss checklist.
Step 1: Gather Information
Strong veteran obituaries don’t merely state that the deceased served in the military. They should include more details. Remember this if you ever write an obituary for someone who served.
For example, a good veteran obituary will usually explain the following:
- What branch of the military a veteran served in
- What rank they achieved,
- When they were in the military
- Which conflicts they participated in
- Any decorations they received.
Gathering this information and making sure it’s accurate is one of the most important steps when writing a veteran’s obituary or a eulogy for a veteran.
Luckily, sometimes it’s also one of the easiest. If you’re writing an obituary for a loved one who not only served in the military, but was proud of their service, many family members may already have all the information you need. Perhaps you do, too.
What if their information isn’t available?
All that said, for various reasons, some veterans don’t discuss the details of their service later in life. They might also not keep any records about their service in their homes. Sometimes, it’s because so much time has passed that they no longer consider their time in the military to be worth dwelling on.
Don’t worry if this is the case. You might still be able to gather all the information you need. This is slightly more challenging, and you’ll probably need to get the information ahead of time.
All you have to do is submit a request to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). They provide all military records since World War I.
That said, you might not have a lot of time to write an obituary. There’s a good chance the NPRC won’t process your request quickly enough if you submit it when someone dies. Keep this in mind if a loved one is a veteran. If they’re older or in ill health, they might legitimately forget certain details about their service.
Just remember that accuracy is crucial here. You don’t want to misrepresent a veteran’s time in the military. If you’re not confident about particular details, keep researching until you’re sure everything is accurate.
For example, maybe a family member isn’t completely sure about the rank a veteran achieved. In that case, you should ask more family members to confirm the information. Again, you won’t have a lot of time to do this, so submitting an official request to the NPRC earlier is a smart idea.
Step 2: Conducting Quick Interviews
In some instances, you only need to include the basic details described above when touching on a veteran’s service in their obituary. Sometimes their military service wasn’t a part of their life a veteran considered to be particularly defining.
On the other hand, many veterans do look back on their years of service with gratitude and pride. They feel the military helped shape them into the people they would be later in life.
For example, perhaps the person you’re writing an obituary for started a successful business after serving. They may have been the type to credit the military for giving them the discipline they needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Or, a veteran might have stayed in touch with fellow veterans throughout life. Maybe they even volunteered for veterans groups or participated in arranging veterans events. If so, they likely believed their service was significant.
Those are just two examples. The point is, if a veteran’s service was important to them, you might also want to describe how in their obituary.
That could simply involve reflecting on your own experiences. If you knew the person you’re writing about very well, maybe you’re confident you have all the information you need to include these details.
On the other hand, there’s a good chance other family members and friends have certain insights regarding what a veteran’s time in the military meant to them. Consider interviewing them briefly if you think they might have details or stories they’d like to share.
Discussing a veteran’s life with friends and family shortly after their passing can upset some. Prepare yourself for the possibility that a few people won’t feel up to answering your questions right now.
Odds are good you’ll also struggle with this task at least a little bit. You also might not have much time to interview everyone who knew about a veteran’s feelings towards their military service.
That’s why you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time on this step. Don’t feel as though you’re researching a book. You’re simply giving a few important people an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings.
Step 3: Start Writing With Inspiration From Veteran Obituary Examples
As these examples show, writing a thorough and respectful obituary for a veteran doesn’t need to be very complicated or challenging.
However, keep in mind that only the first example will include information about the individual’s surviving loved ones. This is to illustrate the typical obituary format and obituary etiquette for predeceased family. The following examples will exclude this information to focus on military service.
John Doe, age 72, died in his home yesterday after a heart attack.
Mr. Doe is survived by a wife, Anna, and two children: Ben and Sarah. He also had three loving grandchildren: Sally, Ken, and Michael.
John is a veteran of the Vietnam War. For his service, he earned a Purple Heart. He served honorably in the Marines, achieving the rank of Lance Corporal.
John’s experience in the Marines played a very important role in his life. He frequently pointed out that the Marines taught him the value of discipline, teamwork, and investing in a cause larger than himself. He would often explain to loved ones how these values contributed to his success as a human rights lawyer upon returning home from Vietnam.
Clark & Smith Funeral Home will host services this Friday at 2 pm. Following a military funeral, John’s family will inter him in their family plot.
Jane Doe, age 43, died yesterday at New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell after a long battle with breast cancer.
Ms. Doe participated in the Iraq War as a soldier in the United States Army. When Jane left the military with the rank of Private First Class, she pursued a new mission: Teaching children about the realities of military service. Jane frequently traveled to schools, delivering presentations and answering student questions. She also served on the board of Marching On, a non-profit that provides military veterans struggling from PTSD with access to counseling, and mental health services. Filmmakers covered her efforts in a 2013 documentary.
Clark & Smith Funeral Home will host Jane’s services at 3 pm this Saturday.
Jack Doe, Ph.D., age 53, died yesterday at Westchester Medical Center. He had sustained wounds when he thwarted an attempted robbery.
Aside from his family, Jack’s greatest devotion was to the military. He attended West Point Military Academy and graduated with honors in 1989. As a commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, Jack served in Operation Desert Storm. He spent several more years as an active member of the Army before earning his Ph.D. Jack then became a professor at West Point, primarily teaching military history courses.
Jack also supported numerous veterans groups and causes throughout his life. He made charitable donations, arranged group counseling sessions, and went on annual fishing trips with fellow veterans. Helping veterans overcome their struggles after serving in the military provided Dr. Doe with a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction.
Clark & Smith Funeral Home will host services for Jack at 1 pm on Sunday. Following a viewing, his family will cremate him, scattering the remains near his favorite fishing spot.
Don’t feel overwhelmed if you need to write a veteran’s obituary. This responsibility is actually an honor. It gives you the chance to celebrate the life of someone who served their country. The information in this guide will help you do so properly.
If you want to learn more about veterans' funerals, read our guide on Navy funeral honors.
- “Military Records and Identification.” USA.gov, USAGov, www.usa.gov/military-records