Tattoos have a long history in the military. Sailors in the Navy who returned from China and Japan with hand-inked tattoos played a role in introducing tattooing culture to mainstream America. In 1846, the first permanent tattoo shop opened, and many of its customers in the coming years were military serviceman fresh from the Civil War.
The choice of tattoo design can tell you a lot about someone’s beliefs and experiences, where they have served and whether they are a member of the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force. The chosen image can be a way of showing solidarity and national pride or can be worn as a badge of honor or as a personal memorial to honor a fallen comrade. It can be a reminder of faith during difficult and threatening times as well as a testament to the sacrifices soldiers are prepared to make for others.
Marine Corps Tattoo
Through the years, each section of the military has acquired its own set of own iconic images which often appear in military tattoos: wings or airplanes for those serving in the Air Force, a bulldog for those in the Marines and chickens or pigs for those in the Navy, usually tattooed on the feet. The stories behind these designs create a sense of tradition and camaraderie as the individuals sporting these tattoos join a historical band of brothers with shared experiences. A tattoo can suggest commitment and loyalty to its permanence. It is popular for military tattoos to incorporate meaningful symbols such as eagles, flags, crosses or flames. Including symbols relating to rank or reflecting awards or uniform decorations is another way of personalizing the design.
Attitudes towards tattoos have become more relaxed over time, leading to greater leniency regarding visible tattoos on active servicemen and women in recent years. The early sailors arriving back into port with a Japanese tattoo would usually have chosen a discreet location so that the tattoo could not be easily seen. Visible tattoos for those in uniform have traditionally been unacceptable, which meant nothing on the forearms, but designs are now tolerated by military leaders as long as they are not indecent, sexist, extremist or racist in content.</p