Military Culture

An inked culture: Sailors discuss the Navy’s longstanding tattoo tradition

Inked Culture

Sailors discuss the meanings behind their tattoos.

Sailors adorning their bodies with tattoos is a well-established Navy tradition, and the featured shipmates from the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt are no exception.

Ships, anchors, swallows, mermaids, turtle shells and more memorialize special memories or career milestones asea, such as crossing the equator or eclipsing 5,000 nautical miles for the first time.

Much of the American traditional tattoo and flash style used today originated during the first half of the 20th century thanks to the work of an artist named Norman Keith Collins — better known as Sailor Jerry.

Collins, who enlisted in the Navy as a teenager and sailed in the Pacific in the 1930s, meticulously crafted his style over more than four decades of tattooing clients — sailors principal among them.

Much of today's American traditional designs are inspired by Sailor Jerry. (Getty)
Much of today's American traditional designs are inspired by Sailor Jerry. (Getty)

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