A tattoo is seen on the arm of a U.S. Army flight medic from Charlie Co. Sixth Battalion, 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shadow

June 28, 2018

Military and Patriotic Tattoos

Tattoos serve an important function within the military and veteran communities, and often function as a way to show their patriotism. Tattoos help form a bond within various military branches, as they all have different symbols they tend to get inked on their skin as a sign of solidarity. Sailors mark themselves for their Naval achievements. Marines still get the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. Army members will still get one or more of the same six tattoos; usually a patriotic design involving the flag, an eagle, a skull, or other designs to symbolize freedom.

History of Patriotism through Tattoos in the Military

Soldiers have been getting tattoos in North America since the Revolutionary War, when revolutionaries used tattoos to avoid being illegally conscripted by the British Navy. In the American Civil War, troops got tattooed with patriotic images by early tattoo artist Martin Hildebrant. The end of World War I brought about a golden age of tattoos for military members, especially sailors. The History of Tattooing, a book from 1925, states that an astounding 90% of U.S. Sailors were tattooed. Sailors used their bodies to show off a record of their achievements through various designs.

Tattoos in the military still serve a similar purpose for most of those serving, with a strong emphasis on national pride and patriotism. According to the article A Short History of Military Tattoos on The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) website, tattoo themes typically involve pride in service, patriotism, unit identification, and memorials. Tattoos also seem to be here to stay, as in 2009 the Army reported about 90% of combat soldiers had at least one tattoo (where the generally population percentage is about 20%!). Military restrictions have also been loosened, allowing serving members to have more tattoos in light of the fact that tattoos are a ubiquitous part of military community.

Modern Patriotic Tattoos

For those who serve, the military is not just a job, but a way of life. It is not a surprise they would want to share that passion with the world by inking it on their skin. According to the Army website, one of the most common types of tattoos is the traditional patriotic tattoo, such as an eagle or U.S. flag tattoo.

The second most common is a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) tattoo. This is the specific job or group you serve in, and can be a point of pride and solidarity within the unit to wear a specific number or symbol as a badge of honor. Entering certain military divisions takes rigorous training and usually involves a lot of passion, so it is understandable they want to make a permanent mark to show off the speciality they have worked hard to achieve. For instance, members of the hawk missiles may have a hawk carrying a missile (some may not be quite as literal), or a combat engineer may get an engineer castle tattoo. Some also get their unit’s patch inked on them.

The other popular kind of tattoo within the military is as a memorial for lost friends and comrades. Many have their names or initials tattooed so they always remember those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Many have the American flag, sometimes tattered, as part of the memorial design.

Patriotism has long been an important part of the military, and many choose to permanently show that on their bodies through tattoos. Make sure to take care of your own ink with the proper products so that they can last for many years.