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Tapas & Tattoos

Tapas & Tattoos Logo

Tattoos and the military go back to 4000 BC, but let’s take a more recent look.

Tattoos became more popular among American servicemembers during and after WWII as a way to tell the story of their travels and experiences—or as a way to rebel.

But what about today? What do tattoos mean for the modern soldier or sailor? Well, it’s much the same, but different.

Let me tell you about mine, and then we’ll revisit meaning, maybe.

I got my first tattoo pre-military as a rebellious norm. They were becoming more popular among teens in my generation. So, I thought, Why the hell not? There was no thoughtfulness involved, no significance to it. I was just doing the cool thing.

That backfired about half a decade later when my choice of tattoo came under fire for being an outdated style, clearly showing that I only got it at the time to look cool. 

Since then, I’ve had dozens more and now I put a lot more thought behind what I would permanently adorn my body with. I’ve written a pieced-together story of experiences, friendships, travels, and people I’ve met—and sometimes lost—along the way, and paid homage to my hometown and ancestors.

Somewhere along the way, I added to the tapestry tattoos that held military significance and superstition, and injected little reminder pieces as guiding lights or that provided a pseudo-moral compass.

I look back and remember where I was, who I was with, what I was going through, and the time period that each tattoo signifies, and it brings me back, even for just a fleeting moment, to a time so imperative to where I am now.

Without those times and experiences, I wouldn’t be here writing this and living my best life with those I hold most dear, and those I would defend to the end—as I did in service to our great nation—if ever it came to that. 

So, back to the meaning of the tattoo part.

Tattoos mean whatever they mean to the wearer. Sure, I can look at someone’s compass rose, swallow, or unit badge and see military affiliation. But, it’s the story the tattoos write, all or in part, that only the bearer can tell. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: Writer Brett Roderick is a veteran U.S. Air Force munitions specialist.


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