An Outreach Program of MarineParents.com
My two Marines are typical of so many other Marines: they have tattoos. And, as one of them patiently explained to me one day when I asked why they had to have so many, “Because, Dad, each one means something special.”
Who am I to question young men who have been in combat, I asked myself. “Go ahead, then, and enjoy your ink,” I told him.
One of my Marines has the following tattooed across his ribs: “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.” It’s a line from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, written in 1601. Who knew that hundreds of years later my son would be such a scholar? His high school English teachers would be amazed.
He also carries the image of a large Celtic cross and an outline – in red – of his home state of Tennessee.
My other Marine wears an Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem over his heart and a Devil Dog reference on his right bicep. And then on his back, just above the beltline, is a simple tattoo: another Marine’s last name. And that Marine – a big, strong high school football star from the upper Midwest -- has my son’s name similarly inked on his back. They survived a tough, stomach-tightening assignment in Iraq together and vowed they would always have one another’s backs. Literally. And so they put it in writing one day at a Yakuza tattoo parlor in Japan, sipping the rice wine offered by the mobster on the next table who was there to add to his full body tattoo. He told them – through the shop proprieter – he respected men of honor.
A retired admiral I once knew sniffed at the thought of tattoos, saying they are mainly the providence of enlisted personnel and not officers. I told him while not everyone injects ink into their skin, everyone carries a mark of some kind, and the mark of snobbery was not a nice one. We haven’t spoken in a long time.
Like my one son said a long time ago, tattoos mean something special to the person who wears them. One son wears a cross to proclaim his faith, a map of his state to tell where he is from and an old line from a Shakespearean play to state his attitude in combat. The other sports the iconic image of the Corps to which he has dedicated himself, as well as the name of a friend he knows will always be there for him – a pact first written in blood and then confirmed in ink. I have to agree those all have special meanings.
I once knew an old man who wore a crudely applied tattoo of letters and numbers on his forearm. He wore it he said so he would always remember how the Nazis murdered his family in Poland long ago. I always thought that no tattoo could ever have more meaning. I was wrong.
The other day one of my sons told me about another tattoo, worn on the arm of one of his buddies, who finished his active duty commitment last week. That Marine, who won a Purple Heart in Afghanistan last year, carries in ink the names of the ten Marines who died during their deployment. Their names, of course, are carried in the hearts of all the surviving Marines, but now – at least on one Marine’s arm – they’re carried where everyone may see them.
I can think of no greater tribute on Memorial Day.