Tattoos Then and Now
Have things changed for the worse?
When I was 17 years old, World War Two was raging. I was fearful that the war would be over before I got into it.
I badgered my mother to give her sworn permission for me to join the Marine Corps. To further persuade her, I punched it up with, “Just as your Marine bother did in the Caribbean, Banana wars”. She smiled when she thought of her favorite brother. Finally, after deliberating about giving up her only son to the Corps who just lost 1,000 men on Tarawa, she announced she would with one salient proviso.
“Before I sign my sanction. I demand you to guarantee me one thing”.
A guarantee! A dozen of her objections flashed through my mind. “Do not drink. Do not gamble. Do not lie. Do not take up with loose women”.
“All right, Mom. What is it?”.
“I do not want you to get a tattoo, I insist.”
What a relief. I never liked tattoos, had no desire to get one. I wondered at the time if my deceased father had one. He had joined the Navy at a similar age and sailed with the Great White Fleet during the period the United States was emerging as a world power. I speculated if he had a tattoo it was because it is what Sailors do. I did not ask her if that was her reason for disliking tattoos, and she never said.
A few months later, we Marines sailed into Pearl Harbor past the damage caused by the Japanese surprise attack on December 7. 1941. The war took on a new reality as we sailed into the danger zone.
We encamped in Tent City at the end of Hickam Field, where planes took off constantly, shaking our tents.
The guys in my tent were eager to get their first liberty and go to Honolulu. When that day came they went to town and had themselves branded for life with tattooed slogans such as.
Simper Fidelis or Death before Dishonor.
They paid the price as their new tats with raised festering and itching patches of color on their arms in the tropical heat.
It was years before the art of tattooing calmed down to the trouble-free tats we have today.
Now those old wartime tattoos look as faded and tried as the bodies that possess them.
Today tattooing is commonplace. The thing to do. I do not know why they are proud of their “sleeves” with tats running the length of their arms.
Worst of all are those that have their face tattooed like a Maori warrior.
If I were in business today, I would hire no one with a face tattoo.
I would have to suppress my attitude about body tattoos. They are as ubiquitous as smartphones.
All this tattooing would appall my mother. She was correct about most things.