I came from a Military Family. My Pop did 52 years in the U. S. Air Force, and served in every Theater of Operations during W. W. II, including China-Burma, the Philippines, North Africa, and Natale. He was personally acquainted with some of the AVG (Flying Tigers), and the “Doolittle Raiders” that bombed Tokyo, as well as Merrill’s Marauders, and others too numerous to mention here. They used to come by our quarters to get drunk, swap war stories, and tell lies. The guys with the most interesting stories always seemed to have tattoos. I found them fascinating! When I’d ask them about a particular one, they always had a story to tell about when they got it. They’d tell me all about where they were, and who had been with them when they’d done it, and why they’d gotten that particular design. It wasn’t always what you’d think. Each one of them was a piece of History. Each one was little “Time Capsule” that they wore on their hides.
I had an uncle, Pete, who ran off to join the Navy right after Pearl Harbor, when he was just 16. He was a scrappy little S.O.B., who always reminded me of Popeye the Sailor. He always squinted when he was lookin’ at you, and talked out of the side of his mouth. He had one Tattoo on his left forearm, a “Fouled Anchor”, with “Minnie” in a scroll wrapped around it. It was very faded from the sun and salt air, but I thought it was baddass! I’ll never forget the first time I asked him about it. “I was drunk when I got it. It hurt like Hell! I’d get rid of it today, except that a lot of good men went to Davey Jones over it. You don’t ever want to get one of these, son”. Uncle Pete had been aboard the USS Minneapolis during the Battle of the Coral Sea when she took two torpedoes to the boilers while he was standing watch in the “crow’s nest”. Half the crew was lost in the explosion. The survivors all went on a binge, and threw a “Sailor’s Wake” when they got back to Pearl. That’s when he got the Tattoo. “You don’t ever want to get one of these, son”. BULLSHIT! I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to get one, and had done some deed of daring-do to deserve it.
When I was a kid, my Pop took me to the circus. They had the Great Omi in the Side Show, along with George Burchette, who did the Tattoos. Omi was billed as the “Zebra Man”. Part of the act was Omi telling the story of his life, and answering questions from the marks. My Pop had met him in South Africa, so I got to go around behind the Show to talk to him in the moose, (the living quarters of the performers on the road), where he told of how he had been “Dis-Owned” by his family, who were professional Colonial Administrators for the Crown. He figured that if he were to be shunned by “Proper Society”, he would make a “ Right bleedin’ Spectacle of himself”, and make his living off them. I also got to meet the great Geo. Burchette, who had tattooed Kings and Queens, and many great names in history. To have been able to get so close to history had to be the greatest thrill I could think of.