Monday, November 29, 2010

Madness Monday: Is the Tombstone Wrong?

(First of all, let me preface this by saying that I know very little about military history beyond what everyone learns in school.  I also know very little about the protocols within the various branches of the US military and Veterans Affairs.  This post will reflect that so please forgive any mistakes or dumb questions within it.)

I know very little about my grandfather's life.  He and his son (my father) had a complicated relationship and only sporadically kept in touch over the years.  I do know that my grandfather was a veteran of WWII and was a Staff Sergeant in the US Army.  I know that because that is what it says on his tombstone.  The tombstone, however, fails to mention other things and only serves to confuse in other areas.

First off, my father always has said that my grandfather's time in WWII was very brief and that the war had ended by the time my grandfather got out of basic training.  He was seventeen when he enlisted in February, 1945 (three days before the Battle at Iwo Jima).  The war was over within the year so it does corroborate what my father has said about my grandfather's service being brief (I'm thinking he enlisted for the standard duration of the war plus six months which would have meant he'd been in for about a year and a half).  But I can't see how he could reach the rank of Staff Sergeant in that short amount of time. 

Another thing that is puzzling is that my father has always said that my grandfather wasn't even in the Army during WWII, it was the Navy.  Apparently, he didn't like the Navy so when the Korean War started he enlisted with the Army where he remained.  Yet his tombstone does not reflect his brief time in the Navy.  Another thing his tombstone omits, is his service in Korea and Vietnam.  Unlike WWII, my father was alive and witness to both wars and his father's participation in both so there is no hearsay basis to it.

I have seen tombstones for veterans of multiple wars and in every case but my grandfather's, the marker reflects the service in multiple wars.  I've also seen tombstones for those who served in more than one area of the armed forces, and again, they reflect this varied service.

Is it possible my grandfather's tombstone is wrong?  I really have no reason to doubt my father, especially in regards to my grandfather's service in Korea and Vietnam.  Does anyone know how Veterans Affairs decides what ends up on a veteran's marker?  I always have assumed that they just copied the veteran's service record, but like I said at the beginning, I'm not very familiar with protocols within the military and Veterans Affairs.  Any thoughts or input on this subject are most welcome.

My grandfather's marker.
Fort Mitchell National Cemetery, Russell, Alabama

(NOTE: Yes, I know this could probably be all cleared up if I were to get my grandfather's service record.  But I'm not his next of kin, my father is, and he has shown no interest or desire to pursue these records.) 


  1. Leah,
    Check the NARA website. Even if you are not "next of kin" you can still request records under the Freedom of Information Act. I think you should definitely write. It might take a long time but why not try? Good luck!

  2. Leah, do you know who requested the marker? The cemetery or funeral home might have some information. Also, if you fill out the paperwork requesting your grandfather's military file and hand/mail it to your father, there's a chance he might sign it. I've had some success doing that with family members who were/are uninterested. Wearing them down with constant pestering helps. Sometimes they sign just to make me go away. ;-)

  3. You can also request a corrected gravestone from the VA if you have the paperwork to back up what you are asking to be added.

  4. The rank on the tombstone would reflect the highest rank received, which could be Staff Sergeant, if he did in fact, serve multiple terms and in different branches.


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