Headstones and Niche Covers

An example of an upright white marble headstone provided by the U.S. government

The U.S. government will provide, at no cost to the estate of the deceased, an upright, white marble headstone or white marble niche cover. Arlington National Cemetery staff will place the order, which goes to the National Cemetery Administration (part of the Department of Veterans Affairs). The order for the headstone or niche cover will include the appropriate inscription and choice of an optional emblem of belief. The next of kin will review the proposed headstone or niche cover text template prior to the date of interment, and the template will be finalized with cemetery staff prior to or on the day of the interment.

Upright white marble headstones (13" x 24" x 4") generally contain 11 lines of text, with or without an emblem of belief. Generally, the stone can accommodate 13 characters (including spaces) on the name line, and 15 characters (including spaces) on all other lines. A veteran's government headstone must contain the deceased's name, rank, branch of service, date of birth and date of death. Other lines can include combat service and significant awards. An additional inscription, not to exceed three lines, can include a term of endearment or reference (e.g. Loving Father, Husband, and Son; Fought for Freedom; Proud Soldier).

White marble niche covers (15¾" x 11¼" x ⅞") generally contain 10 lines of text, with or without an emblem of belief. Generally, the niche cover can accommodate 11 characters (including spaces) on the name line, and 13 characters (including spaces) on all other lines except the 9th and 10th line, which can contain a maximum of nine characters (including spaces). An additional inscription, not to exceed two lines, can include a term of endearment or reference.

To check the status of an order, call 1-877-907-8585. Headstone/niche cover photos are loaded into Arlington's app, ANC Explorer, approximately 90 days after a service is conducted.

Private Headstone Markers

Arlington National Cemetery no longer accepts requests for new private (e.g. not government-provided) headstone markers, due to extremely limited space and interment challenges such as growth of trees, landscape and maintenance provisions, and safety concerns for families and staff.

Families that currently maintain a private marker, or foresee a secondary interment or inscription at Arlington National Cemetery, are reminded that they are responsible for the perpetual care of these headstones. Accurate commemoration of individuals on private markers is also the responsibility of the family. 

For more information, please see our private markers fact sheetPrivate Markers factsheet.

Private Markers: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why is ANC no longer accepting private markers?
A. All of the original 13 sections designated for private markers (PMs) have been filled (as of December 2017). There is no more space in the remaining sections designated for PMs. A PM requires more space for its foundation than a government-issued headstone, and care of the grounds necessitates additional space.

Q. Were only VIPs authorized to have a private marker?
A. No. Any veteran or family member was eligible to request a PM at a loved one’s time of need. Historically, during and after the Civil War, families that could afford a private marker would often choose a custom headstone as an emblem of honor and status; in the older sections of the cemetery, you will find large and often ornate headstones, many created by renowned artists. Today, however, headstones do not indicate rank or wealth. Indeed, government upright headstones mark the gravesites of four-star generals and Medal of Honor recipients. 

Q. If a tree is removed, can a PM be reserved for that space?
A. When a dead or damaged tree is removed, an acceptable replacement tree will be planted to maintain the iconic look of cemetery grounds. Replacing trees is also important to maintaining the cemetery’s Level II arboretum status.

Q. Will there be space in the new sections of the cemetery?
A. No. Per Title 10 USC § 553.28, PMs are authorized only in sections of the cemetery where they existed prior to January 1, 1947. All new sections will consist of either government upright headstones or columbarium court/wall marble niche covers.

Q. What does it mean for a family to maintain the perpetual care of a PM?
A. Families are responsible for all maintenance of private markers, including repairs and any additional inscriptions. ANC will conduct minor routine cleaning of the marker and maintain the ground around it.

Q. Do PMs pose problems in the cemetery?
A. Most of the problems with private markers are errors in fact (incorrect dates, misspelled names) or damage to the stone or foundation. Errors were likely from the families ordering the markers, or mistakes made by memorial companies. These can impact identification of the decedent, as well as causing confusion in ANC's interment databases. Private markers can also become safety hazards if they are damaged or fall off of their foundations. Coordinating corrections and resolving safety concerns requires additional staff hours and resources. 

Lithochrome Policy

Dark lithochrome letters on grave stone

The first headstones at Arlington National Cemetery were simple white headstones with the personal information and gravesite number etched into the stone. Later, lithochrome — a type of water-resistant paint applied to headstones that darkens the letters — was introduced to make inscriptions easier to read.

Over time, the blackening fades. The fading occurs in a non-uniform way, both on individual headstones and across a section. 

Arlington National Cemetery no longer uses lithochrome, except for on headstones ordered for first interments (at the time of interment) located in Section 60, as well as on niche covers in columbarium courts 1-9 and the niche wall. If a headstone requires replacement for another reason, it will not contain lithochrome. When niche covers are in need of replacement, lithochrome will be applied.