Tattoos have been around a while now dating back 5000 years. Some are cultural, some for religion, others to identify the bad and some to identify the wealthy. Mostly though, tattoos were for those living outside on modern society like hobos, circus freaks etc. In World War 2 when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbour near Honolulu, tattooing and western culture changed forever.
It seems whenever we talk about the origins of tattooing to western culture we mention Norman Collins, a former Navy man who went by the name of Sailor Jerry. We have a post all about Sailor Jerry here. He studied under a Japanese tattooist and began to tattoo the millions of servicemen that passed through Honolulu due to the war.
Army Infantry Tattoo Meaning
In terms of the Infantry tattoo meaning, it simply highlights the teams of forces that fought on foot. Generally an infantry tattoo design could be a soldier walking with flag, soldier with a gun, some sort of flag variation and more often you may find two guns crossed over like crossbones with text. For infantry tattoos ideas click here
Navy Tattoo Designs
This is were Sailor Jerry made his name through Navy servicemen. Typically he would put his designs on the backs, shoulders and arms of people passing through Honolulu. Sailor Jerry designs would include:-
Anchor: A true symbol of devotion to the Navy this tattoo represents loyalty, stability and protection, very similar to the forces it represented. With the anchor many servicemen would have the name of their sweetheart or most secure object within their life.
Dagger: The dagger tattoo can have many different meanings ranging from death, broken heart, protection and bravery. When in the military it may also be accompanied with skulls and hearts
Ships: Identifying the place of work and adventure, the ship tattoo but also the journey for every serviceman. These ship often had “Homeward bound” text with it.
Japanese Tattoos: As mentioned in our Japanese Tattoo Meanings blog post. Japanese Tattoos consisted of skulls, Japanese writing, dragons, snakes, flowers and waves. Check out some great Japanese tattoo here
Pin Up Girls: Back in world war 2, the pin-up girl would be the only female form the servicemen would see for months. Often Sailor Jerry would ink a range of pin-ups from maidenly perfection to temptress.
Swallows: There are a couple of meaning to swallows on a serviceman's body. The first being that the sailor had travelled 500 miles in service. The second, sometimes sailors would get one swallow, then the second on the return to symbolise the swallows famous migration to always return home.
Sharks: When it comes to shark tattoo meanings, many servicemen believe that a shark tattoo represents things that you have overcome. Simply put, sharks stand their ground just like when you are at war.
Skulls: In different cultures skulls have different meanings. When it comes to the military, a skull tattoo often highlights the soldiers bravery. It's a mark of a warrior, mercenary and adventurer.
Bobby Pin Tattoo Meanings
Bobby pins have been around since the early 1920’s. Its thought the bobby pin has could mean that the serviceman is spoken for.
Bulldog Tattoo Meanings
As they are referred to as the ‘devil dogs’ by the Germans because of the way they fought, many marines began getting bulldog tattoos and so they became a symbol to represent the marines.
Dog Tags Tattoo Meanings
Often a symbol that represents time spent in the forces, dog tags in reality are worn by soldiers so that they can be identified on the battlefield.
This is associated with the a soldier being able to find their way home as it is generally known as the compass rose
The green beret is one that is worn by special forces and is often accompanied by a skull when in a tattoo design.
As the green represents special forces, the red beret represents the airbone forces. As these soldiers are generally dropped in to heavy battle the beret are red are symbolic of death.
Korean War Tattoo
Much like in world war two, when the Korean War started in 1950 to 1955, many servicemen passing through the surrounding areas got tattoos to mark their travels, their superstitions or to remember the fallen. Tattoo ideas for the Korean war often involved soldier portraits, planes helicopter, much like a scene from the war. Dog tags and guns with a helmet and boots are more memorial piece for the era.
British Army Tattoo
The British army badge, poppies, soldier portraits, gravestones, soldier silhouettes and British bulldogs are among the favourites for for the british army soldiers. Anything that connects the that person to their experience to the British army.
Being a service person isn't an ordinary job, it's a career choice that could determine life or death. For this reason the intensity creates magnificent bonds with fellow comrades. There are many ways soldiers express how they are affiliated with each other. If you have a tattoo and are in the forces, share you tattoo with us on social media or here in the comments.