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Military tattoos – that is, tattoos that incorporate army, navy or air force logos or symbols – are an interesting sub-category of tattoo art. You may have seen military tattoos in the past without quite realizing their significance. Limiting our observations to US military tattoos, military tattoo designs commonly represent a branch of the military, such as the USN (U.S. Navy) or USAF (U.S. Air Force) or a particular military operation.
Military Tattoo Art
There are images associated with the Navy, the Air Force, Marines, and so on. The USN can be represented by an anchor naturally enough – sometimes adorned with stars or an American flag. One USAF image is the American eagle – a natural choice given that the eagle represents flight and is also the symbol of the United States.
Military tattoo art that incorporates these images is colourful, and sometimes almost cartoon-ish in appearance. The image is pleasant and positive; if anything, military tattoos of this type seem to have less ‘edge’ than many other tattoos. That is to say, they seem to represent and, later in life, commemorate a meaningful and rewarding part of life. Some would say that a military tattoo of this type glorifies the military and that’s probably true. The people likely to get this type of tattoo are those who are happy and proud to be part of the military.
Some military tattoos send a slightly different message though. These include military ‘dog tag’ designs and tattoos that commemorate a certain military operation someone has participated in. These might include the operation code name and a logo and generally speaking they have an appearance that’s somewhat less bright an optimistic. Essentially it’s the difference between the idea of the military and the harsh reality that sometimes ensues.
A Military Tattoo with an Edge
Military tattoos that commemorate a military operation often have a darker edge to them. The images are not so positive – they are as likely to feature skulls and other death imagery as symbols of America, like the eagle. Sometimes they have both. This type of military tattoo art is reminiscent of prison tattoos. The experiences we have been through – particularly the hard ones – mark us and tattoo art is one way of expressing this. Military tattoos can express a whole range of experiences and feelings about the military.
As for the US Marines, a bulldog is a common component of their tattoo art. The bulldog is the mascot of the marine corps because of a recruiting post back in WWI where they were called devil dogs or tuffelhunden.
Another common marine corps tattoo design is an eagle combined with globe and anchor. This has been the symbol for the marine corps for hundreds of years.
Celebrities With a Military Tattoo
A list of celebrities with military tattoos (do you know more? Let me know.):
- Allen Iverson: basketball player with a soldier's head on his arm (better said, the remains of a soldier's head) and the word SOLDIER underneath. He feels his life has been a war and he's a soldier in it.
- Axl Rose: has a tattoo of the crest of the 69th Armour Regiment on his arm (Elvis was a member of the same regiment.). The motto is Victory or Death.
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