Honoring and Understanding Our Veterans

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more than 2.5 million U.S. men and women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 7,000 have lost their lives. Those who have returned pay other costs. They struggle to process their wartime experience, recover from profound losses, and reintegrate into civilian life.

War Ink emerged out of a need to recognize veterans' service and sacrifices and to bridge the divide between the veterans and civilian communities. This is both exhibit and forum, using tattoos as a springboard for California veterans to share their stories. Stark, beautiful, disturbing, and often darkly humorous, these tattoos are visual expression of memories and emotions that can be difficult to discuss openly.

Chapter 1

We Were You


Over 3 million people currently serve in the U.S. military. That may seem like a huge number, but is actually less than 5% of the overall population. Even so, the military embodies all the diversity found in this country. Both men and women serve. About a third identify themselves as a minority. Enlistees come from every state.

Victoria Lord
Navy, Iraq
If there is a common thread uniting these very different people, it’s the motivation for serving. After all, our military is entirely voluntary. People choose to enlist. Many enlistees cite a hunger for challenge and also love of country: a belief in the American value system and our foundational ideals.

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…

Oath of Enlistment
An enlistee is a civilian until he or she takes this oath. Saying these words is a commitment to the country and its ideals. It’s also a commitment to one’s brothers and sisters in arms. Taking the oath also signals the start of one’s transformation into a soldier. Once it is said, training begins.
David Cascante
Army, Iraq

It's my own memorial for all those that do pay that price, willingly, because of their love for America.

David Cascante

The infantry makes you a man and a soldier really quick. The level of intensity was extremely high. One of my drill sergeants said, 'We break you down as a person and build you up as an infantryman, because without doing one, you can't accomplish the other.'

Zakariah Bass
Zakariah Bass
Army, Iraq

I loved the men that I worked with, because over time and over a lot of pain and dedication to one thing, we built something together. We would carry each other... I loved them.

I don’t regret any tattoos because they all represent that moment in my life. It's like a map of my journey.

Heather Hayes
Air Force, Iraq/Afghanistan
Victoria Lord
Navy, Iraq
William Glazier
Army, Iraq/Afghanistan

I never really thought I would get a tattoo. Nothing was really important enough at that point to put on my body. I'd be lying if I said I was the first one to get this tattoo. It wasn't about originality. It was about the camaraderie--my best friends that I met in First Battalion.

William Glazier
Army, Iraq/Afghanistan

Transformation
Training may be physically demanding, but the far greater change is psychological. The focus shifts from the individual to the whole. The mindset must also switch to a war-fighting one. The demands of this war-fighting culture structure every aspect of soldiers’ lives. Their civilian, pre-military lives are kept at a distance.



However one feels about war and the larger role of the military, it is undeniable that serving puts the nation’s core ideals front and center. It also demands selflessness, commitment to others, and a sense of shared duty. Meeting these demands results in resilience, strength, and capability.

Chapter 2 Changed Forever
Chapter 3 Living Scars
Chapter 4 Living Not Surviving