Military tattoos tell the tale of warriors

For National Tattoo Day, ASU vets share the stories behind their ink


A collage of ASU veterans tattoos

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The skin sings: Iraq. Afghanistan. Korea. Japan. Indonesia. Germany. Hungary. And the good ol’ USA.

Military veterans say they get inked for a variety of reasons. They often symbolize loss, patriotism, resistance and sacrifice. Sometimes they’re used to quietly sniff out fellow warriors, but they can also serve as a shield to keep citizens from asking too many questions.

Mostly, they represent a form of self-expression and a permanent reminder of their service — or even just their favorite sci-fi show.

In recognition of National Tattoo Day on July 17, Arizona State University veterans share the stories behind their ink.


Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“Military people travel all over the world with deployments and duty stations, kind of jumping all around all the time, making new friends and having to leave their old friends,” said Chris Hennessy, a mechanical engineering major at ASU who recently served in the U.S. Marines.

“They want to bring parts of them with them wherever they go.”

Anthropologists have traced the age-old practice of tattooing as far back as 400 B.C., but its American military roots can be found in the Revolution. Tattoos picked up steam in port towns in the 18th and 19th centuries but somehow lost their luster during World War II.

Despite rigorous restrictions in the past, the American armed forces are more accepting these days, and tattoo culture among soldiers appears to be more popular than ever. That goes for the female vets, too.

“I would say it’s pretty common among women in the military,” said Marisa Von Holten, a justice studies major at ASU and Air Force vet. “I got my first tattoo with two other females in the service. One even ended up as my bridesmaid.”

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