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How to obtain a Military Headstone or Marker
Some of you have read the Blessing of the Stone item in the Vermont Civil War site and inquiries are being made as to the possibility of arranging a similar event for your ancestor. I am presenting this article in an effort to assure you that while the process will require patience and documentation it is a fairly straightforward construct that can easily be arranged.
The Veterans Affairs Division of the Veterans Administration will provide, free of charge, monuments for its veterans. The form necessary for this application is VA Form 40-1330. This form is readily available from the Veteran Affairs office at: Office of Memorial Programs (403A), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20420-0001. [ed - It can also be downloaded from the VA Website]
This approval of your application will include free shipping charges. All costs to install the headstone or marker must be paid from private funds. However there are some sensible limitations.
The applicant must certify
A] Eligibility: Any deceased veteran discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. For service prior to WW I, detailed documentation e.g. muster rolls, extracts from State files, pension or land warrant are required.
B] That the current grave is unmarked and a government headstone or marker is preferred to a privately purchased headstone or marker. This restriction applies to companion markers as well. A companion marker is defined as a marker that displays the decedents name and dates of death even though the veteran's military data is not shown.
C] The memorial headstone or marker is furnished upon application by a relative recognized as the next of kin for installation only in a cemetery to commemorate any veteran whose remains have not been recovered of identified, were buried at sea, donated to science or cremated and the remains scattered.
This is how the process unfolded for us.
It had been a family folklore for decades that one of our great-uncles had been killed in the Civil War and his body was never sent home. But when pressed for details there just wasn't any concrete evidence available establishing the identity of this uncle. Out of curiosity one day I looked in the 'Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers in the War of Rebellion, Adj. Gen. Office, Montpelier, 1892," and found that a John Dunn, of Essex County, a substitute for a Atherton had in fact been killed in the Civil War. But the chain of evidence didn't exist that would directly connect us as an ancestor. Good genealogy demands that this connection be absolutely clear.
The next step in the process involved a cousin Earl Dunn. Earl researched and finally found the long lost "James C. Dunn Family Bible", again a long time family lore or rumor that a bible such as this existed was firmly established. It was in this bible that we were able to establish the chain of evidence directly linking the John Dunn of the Revised Roster to our ancestry.
It clearly stated in the bible:
"This is a Record of John Dunn's Death 1864 [crossed out, illegible]
Who was killed in the Third Vermont Regiment
Com. B on the 5 Thursday or on friday or Saturday. [Thursday]
He was killed [in action 5 May 1864]"
We had now established the ancestral connection to our family.
Earl then took the search to its next level and went to the National Archives, Washington, DC where he was able to find:
*Muster Rolls showing John Dunn in Co. B, 3rd VT Regiment
*A Letter from the Adjutant General stating that John Dunn was killed inaction at the Battle of the Wilderness on 5 May 1864.
We had now established his military existence.
To get this information, Earl went personally to the Archives in Washington, DC. "First trips were to determine if there was information available in a special document room. Then I had to make an appointment, listing the actual documents wanted to review. If I remember correct, it took a week or two for them to retrieve the documents. Then I was notified that I could come and view the documents. I went there and reviewed the actual documents and was allowed to point out the ones I wanted copies made. They made the copies, can't remember if they did it right there or mailed them to me later - perhaps the later. The original documents are here in the National Archives, do not know if they would be available in the Regional Archives. [Earl Dunn]
Earl resides not far from Washington so making the trip was easy. But it is fairly simple to acquire copies of documents such as he discovered through the mail and at nominal costs. It simply requires writing the national Archives requesting form NATF Form 80 and submitting the application. If documents such as Military records or Pension records are available, the NARA notifies you as such and generally the fee for such found documents cost under $20.
The next step in the process was to locate his burial site if one existed. A thorough search of burial records in the vicinity of his home; a search of the local churches of his religion and a search of local newspapers failed to establish that his body was ever found or buried.
So -- we had established a John Dunn from northeastern Vermont was killed in the Civil War; we had firmly connected John's ancestry to our family, we had obtained vital military records establishing his dates of enlistment and unit he served with and his date of death. We had also researched resources and were able establish that a funeral or burial had not been held in his community within reasonable time-frames of his date of death at the Wilderness in1864.
We now have all the information needed for application.
The request for form VA Form 40-1330 was made in April of 1998. Within a month I had received the form. The completed application was mailed to the Veteran Affairs office on 2 May 1998. On 24 July 1998 I called Washington and discovered that my application had been approved and that the current delivery times were running about 90 days. On 24 September 1998, I received a call from a trucking company in Mass asking for direction to my home. They arranged delivery of the Memorial stone for later that day! Less than 5½ months from start to finish!!
Mission Accomplished. I would like to say that I was impressed with the ease of application, the common sense eligibility documentation required and the speed within which this entire process unfolded. If all departments within our government functioned with such efficiency.... The Veterans Affairs Division is to be congratulated.
If any of you have a veteran of similar circumstance as John Dunn I would certainly hope this item is helpful".
Footnote: The actual Blessing of the Stone Ceremony is well detailed in an article on Vermont in the Civil War.
Tom Dunn, Earl Dunn, Peggy Decoteau Auger.