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History of Tattoos in the Military

Since today is Veteran’s Day (Remembrance Day for our Canadian friends), we thought we’d take some time to explore the rich relationship between tattoos and the soldiers who wore them. An expert on tattoo designs, Lee Roller—the Founder and CEO of Custom Tattoo Design, an online retailer dedicated to providing premium, custom tattoo designs worldwide—has graciously penned this post exclusively for Inked.

Tattoos have been popular in all branches of the American military for over 100 years. Whether the tattoos are for showing off military pride or remembering a fallen comrade, getting inked as a serviceman or service woman has a rich history.

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that patriotic symbols are common to just about every branch. American flags and eagles are among the most popular symbols to make their way onto a soldier. However, each branch of the armed forces has developed their own special breed of favorite symbols.


According to the Army’s website, about 90% of the members of this branch have at least one tattoo. That’s a huge percentage when one considers that the national average for people aged 18-40 is 38%.

“Pride in service” is among the most common themes, including a wide range of tattoos honoring a warrior’s life. Members of the Army also often honor their units in ink, as well as their occupational specialties. If you look closely at many Army tattoos you may learn a lot about their time with the service.

Memorials for lost comrades and friends serve as a permanent tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Because of their permanence, tattoos provide a personal memory that lasts as long as the bond formed between two comrades. Often these memorial tattoos are portrayed with crosses topped by a helmet.