At its most basic level, an obituary is a notice in the newspaper announcing a death and the subsequent memorial and funeral arrangements. But an obituary can be much more than this. It can be a testimony and record of the events of a person’s life. It can preserve memories, record accomplishments or help loved ones to understand distant relatives. When the deceased is a military member, another layer of complexity is added to the writing of an obituary as they may have been separated from the family in service to their country or involved in dangerous and secret work. Service member obituaries should do more than give facts. These individuals have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend all that we hold dear. The guidelines below can help you to craft and an accurate, dynamic and memorable obituary to honor a fallen soldier.
Call the newspaper at the base or post to which the individual was assigned. You will need to know how much space they allow for obituaries or death notices. More space will generally be allotted for persons of higher rank or in whom there is a large amount of public interest. If no restrictions are placed on the length of the obituary, determine if a fee will be charged for its publication and if the fee is fixed or if it is determined by the obituary length.
Begin writing by making a list of the known facts from the life of the deceased. On the top of a sheet of paper, write his full name followed by his place and date of birth and his place and date of death.
List the following information beneath the name and dates: the cause of death, survivors - primarily relatives and loved ones - and memberships in local or national organizations.
Make a note of any academic awards or degrees received by the deceased as well as any hobbies or activities of note, including participation in civic events, religious organizations and support given to charitable organizations.
Write down all of the relevant details pertaining to the deceased's military service beginning with the branch, unit and rank. Write down the dates of service as well as any awards, medals or accolades received. Make note of any foreign service and any combat situations or battles in which the deceased served. If you are not sure of the details, ask another military member to put you in touch with the deceased's commanding officer, who can help you fill in the blanks.
Add details for the memorial, funeral and burial arrangements. Be sure to include the time and place for each.
Bring the obituary to a close by stating where flowers, cards or other memorials and contributions can be sent.
Write the rough draft of the obituary, rounding out your facts and turning them into paragraphs. Write about the deceased in the third person. Verify each fact, if possible. A good obituary tells the reader about the deceased, but it is also precise and inclusive in its details. Be careful not to overuse key military words such as honor, loyalty, brave, discipline and courage. Use them sparingly to prevent the obituary from sounding cliché.
Rewrite your rough draft, checking for spelling errors and typos. Read it out loud to make sure the tone is correct and the wording flows. Revise any areas that seem inconsistent.
Take the obituary to the base newspaper with a picture of the deceased. Try to find a photo of the individual in military dress uniform, if possible. You should consider sending a copy to the local paper in the deceased’s hometown as well.
Items you will need
Internet access (for research)
Consider publishing an online obituary. This is particularly useful for military members as frequent relocation leaves a widespread net of friends and family. The Internet version can then be viewed by all family members and friends, no matter where they are. Cut out copies of the printed obituary to mail to relatives and friends who are out of the area.
Do not put the house address of the deceased in the obituary as this serves as a notice to would-be thieves that the house is empty, or it will be during the funeral.