The art of tattooing is far older than most people realize. In fact, tattooing is an ancient custom that dates back to the origins of our species and, throughout human history, it has been practiced by most cultures. Even the Catholic Church, who has opposed the art of marking the skin, allowed Crusader Knights to tattoo the Holy Cross on their bodies so that they could be identified as Christians and given a Christian burial.
Marco Polo makes several mentions of finding tattooed people during his travels throughout the orient.
John Hawkins, the famed English navigator, found tattooed Indians in Florida when he explored in the 1500s. Most historians agree that English expeditionaries introduced the tattoo to western societies after returning from the Polynesian islands in the 1700s. And while today the tattoo has been adopted by the rich and famous, Tattoo Culture is rich and very complex. Today we are going to delve a bit deeper into the world of one the Tattoo World’s oldest traditions: The Military Tattoo
Military Tattoo tradition originated during the American Civil War, with soldiers of both sides often getting tattoos to signal their loyalty to their respective causes.
Since the 19th century, each war has inspired its own set of tattoos amongst the ranks. Military tattoos have become an important part of military service and today each branch of the military has its own rules, regulations, and traditions concerning tattoos.
For the most part, the purpose of a military tattoo is to show respect to those who have bravely served, those who will one day fight in wars, and those who remain behind, mired in uncertainty and concern for their loved ones on the front lines.
Another common purpose for the military tattoo is to commemorate those who have fallen in the field of battle. While Gung-Ho military enthusiasts absolutely love to get tatted up with military designs, tons of people from around the world do so as well.
Most military tattoos will have very clear elements that make them extremely identifiable such as helmets, skulls, rifles, grenades, tanks, inspirational quotes, and famous sayings related to war. As a matter of fact, the various branches of the military (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) have specific recurring motifs that identify their respective tattoos. For example, Navy tattoo designs include anchors of all kinds, while Air Force tattoos tend to display eagles, aircraft, and even weapons characteristic of the service such as bombs and missiles.
Military flags, medals, and emblems also play a principal role in the design of military-style tattoos. The branches of the military services, i.e. the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, each have unique and emblematic designs and themes that convey their strengths and traditions. So if you’re proud of your troops and want to show your support for them, or if you are simply a fan of military art, consider a military tattoo for your next ink design.
If you plan to join the service in the near future it is very important to understand that while all the military branches allow their members to have tattoos, they also restrict their content to varying degrees.
For example, all tattoos that display overtly sexual content, affiliations to known criminal groups or gangs are prohibited and thus must be removed before joining the services. Tattoo designs that actively discriminate based on sex, religion, or race are also absolutely prohibited. Also prohibited are tattoos on your face, neck, hands, and weirdly enough on the elbows and knees.
Having said that, there are some very specific exceptions, such as some branches allowing having small ring-style tattoos. However, these exceptions vary from branch to branch, so if you are curious to know if your particular tattoo design is allowed or not, I recommend you check out each branch’s tattoo regulations.
Army: If you are looking for tattoo designs that are representative of the Army you might want to consider designs that are bold and to the point. Think of an exploding bomb, or a weapon spitting lead. Tattoos depicting Army vehicles are also extremely common. Think Tanks, Helicopters, and Humvees. Bible verses, such as the famous “I Shall Fear No Evil” Psalm are an extremely popular Army Tattoo.
Navy: Navy designs are also very particular and in some cases quite traditional. For example, sailors from around the world often get designs of anchors and five-pointed nautical stars. Some of the oldest tattoo designs are naval designs and these include swallows, fully rigged ships, dragons, turtles, and propellers.
Air Force: The Air Force is known for one thing above everything else: Dominance of the sky. Therefore, nearly all tattoo designs that seek to honor the Air Force include wings. So, think eagles and fighter jets (both modern and historical)! A fantastic idea for a large tattoo is to depict an intricate dog-fight with various elements playing off each other. The inside-the-cockpit view is another great idea for an Air Force themed tattoo.
Marines: The Marine Corp takes everything they do with deadly seriousness, and their tattoos are certainly no exception. Without a doubt, the most common themes of Marine Corp tattoo design are Honor and Brotherhood. Anything design that represents loyalty, tenacity, and ferocity and camaraderie are going to feel right at home in the world of the Marines. For that reason, the single most popular Marine Corps tattoo is simply the official Marine Corp Emblem: A bald eagle sitting atop the globe. Rank insignias are also very popular as well as the timeless slogan “Semper Fi”.
Coast Guard: Speaking of Latin phrases, “Semper Paratus” is the official motto of the Coast Guard, which makes it a very popular tattoo design for those looking to honor the fifth branch of the military. Other popular ideas for Coast Guard themed tattoos include anything maritime.