Design It: Re-envisioning Main Entrances at National Cemeteries

Guiding Question:

How does a national cemetery honor and memorialize all fallen heroes while creating a memorable experience for all?


Using resources from the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) and Google Maps, students will learn the purpose of the NCA, understand the components for designing the entrance to a national cemetery, and propose a new and contemporary design for the Golden Gate National Cemetery.


Historical Context

There are more than 4.1 million people, including veterans of every war and conflict, who have earned the benefit of burial in U.S. national cemeteries. In 1862, at the beginning of the Civil War, national cemeteries were first developed by the U.S. Army under the leadership of General Montgomery Meigs, Quartermaster General. In the twentieth century, the U.S. government realized the need to accommodate the memorial needs of a growing veteran population. Between World War I and World War II, cemeteries were built adjacent to veterans’ hospitals. After World War II, retired General of the Army Omar Bradley took charge of the newly formed Veterans Administration (VA), which began building larger national cemeteries independent of VA hospitals to accommodate the anticipated needs of veterans close to where they lived. In 1973, the NCA was created. The U.S. Army passed control of most of these cemeteries (except for Arlington National Cemetery, the cemetery located at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and those on U.S. military posts) to the NCA. Today the NCA operates 135 national cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico and makes grants to state and tribal governments for construction of veterans cemeteries at over 100 additional sites in 47 states.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Identify the purpose and mission of the National Cemetery Administration;
  • Understand and identify unique qualities and requirements of the national cemetery’s front entrances; and
  • Create and design a proposal for the Golden Gate National Cemetery’s main entrance.

Standards Connections

National Visual Arts Standard
CR3.1.1a Apply relevant criteria from traditional and contemporary cultural contexts to examine, reflect on, and plan revisions for works of art and design in progress

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.13.6-8 Evaluate the relevancy and utility of a historical source based on information such as maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Introduction to National Cemetery Administration (45 minutes)

  • Project the Mission and Background of the National Cemetery Administration statement and read it aloud. Ask students:
    • Why were the national cemeteries created? What purpose do they serve?
    • Who can be buried there?
    • Why do you think some veterans choose to be buried there?
    • Do you know anyone buried in a national cemetery?
  • Project the Design It PowerPoint Presentation to students. Read the mission statement and show the related images (slides one through five).
  • Direct students to take notes and discuss each component of the mission statement.
    • Teacher Tip: The grave site shown is that of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who served as Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, during World War II. Review the Presidential Memorial Certificate Fact Sheet to learn more about these certificates and how family members can request them.
  • Distribute one copy of the Main Entrance Specifications independently.
    • Ask students, How do the main entrance requirements fulfill the mission of the NCA?
  • Project the image of the Main Entrance at Golden Gate National Cemetery (slide 6 in the Design It PowerPoint). Review the criteria and help students identify the required elements (architectural or landscape feature, gates, curbs, transition area, Department of Veterans Affairs Seal, name of the Cemetery). Ask students,
    • How does this entrance denote the cemetery as a place of significance and dignity without overpowering the visitor?
    • How does the entrance use landscaping and color?
    • What historical and traditional symbols indicate this is a “national shrine?”
    • Do you think this entrance is representative of the men and women buried here? Why or why not?
  • Direct students (working as a class or in small groups) to use Google Maps to virtually explore Golden Gate Cemetery to see various elements as described in the NCA Facilities Guide, especially focusing on the front entrances. This will allow students to understand the layout and the significance of its design.
  • Direct students to the Golden Gate National Cemetery website to learn more about the location and the people buried there.

Assessment Materials

Assessment: Re-Design the Entrance (60 minutes)

  • Divide students into pairs.
  • Distribute one copy of the Cemetery Entrance Re-Design Instructions and Rubric to each pair.
  • Review the instructions and check for understanding.
  • Provide pencils, paper, and colored pencils for the student’s initial sketch.
  • Encourage each student to brainstorm separately and then discuss and combine their best ideas for their submitted proposal.
    • Teacher Tip: If desired (and if time permits) students can project their designs to the class and pitch their proposal with a spoken component.
  • The Cemetery Entrance Re-Design Rubric can be used to score this assessment.

Methods for Extension

  • Students with interest regarding the national cemeteries can read more regarding the guidelines in honoring those killed in conflicts and the veterans who survived these conflicts.
  • Teachers can create a class blog and include all student proposals.
  • Students can create a new headstone, marker, or medallion providing new and relevant alternatives to the existing designs. Click here to learn more.


  • Teachers can adapt the project to local national cemeteries to provide relevancy to the students.


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Primary Sources

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