War Ink: These Tattoos Help The Stories of War Live On

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You know that little card in your wallet or purse? The one you never think about that says “library” across the front? Well, did you know that this card is a pivotal part helping house homeless veterans? It’s true! Public libraries are warm, clean, and they have free bathrooms. All of these things can (and do) attract homeless people to their doors and 12% of this population are veterans! One librarian saw this was an important issue and came up with a create way to draw attention to the stories of veterans…through tattoos!

Chris Brown and Jason Deitch started a project called “War Ink.” Each of them played a crucial role in making this project a success. Brown had the library expertise through California’s major library systems and Deitch, an Army veteran and social researcher, was the ambassador to the veteran community. Together, they gathered 24 veterans, whose tattoos totaled roughly 100, (it’s sometimes hard to tell where one tattoo starts and another one stops) to create something special to celebrate the community.

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But what exactly is “War Ink?”

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Johnathan Snyder (Army) / Via War Ink

“War Ink” is an online, multimedia art exhibit that celebrates the uniqueness of the veteran community. In their own words, their mission is simple:

“Libraries have a duty to provide resources to all citizens, but place special emphasis on serving our returning veterans – a segment of our community that can be overlooked.”

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Victoria Lord (Navy) / Via War Ink

By using tattoos as the focus for their project, Brown and Deitch sought out veterans who wanted to share their stories. Their tattoos are striking, beautiful, personal, symbolic, and a majority of them reflect their experiences in war. The project combines audio clips, video, photos, and text to fully encompass the stories of a diverse group of veterans.


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Jeff Slater (Army) / Via War Ink

By turning the stories of these vets into an engaging art exhibit, Brown and Deitch have recontextualized their stories of pain and hardship, of loss and sacrifice, of strength and courage, into something truly beautiful. In the words of “War Ink:”

“They capture the attention, making viewers want to learn more and listen longer.”

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Noah Bailey (Army) / Via War Ink

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Some of these tattoos represent the things these vets have lost. Take, for instance, Noah Bailey. He lost both of his legs to an explosive device in Afghanistan, which is why he got a tattoo of the incident on his chest with his shoes floating up to heaven.


Continue to the next page to see our favorite War Ink…

Other tattoos are complex,

representing many different things: pistols, flowers, locks, hearts, butterflies… each symbol is personal and represents the pain of the needle that goes into producing the image.

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Ryan Le Va (Army) / Via War Ink

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Heather Hayes (Air Force) / Via War Ink

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Tracy Cooper-Harris (Army) / Via War Ink

Tracy Cooper-Harris is tattooed with meaningful words, a speech made by Teddy Roosevelt. This lyrical address was made in 1899, but its words still ring true for this veteran. It is a badge of courage and beauty, forever on her skin.


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Ryan Le Va (Army) / Via War Ink

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Alex Dietrich-Smith (Army) / Via War Ink

Every tattoo tells a story and each story is important. Whether it’s a story of pain, of family, of loss, or of strength, the “War Ink” project celebrates veterans as individuals. The veteran community is not made up of just one type of person, it is made of many. And “War Ink” reminds us that each is important. So next time you talk with a veteran, don’t be afraid to ask them about their tattoos. If they didn’t want anyone to see them, they wouldn’t have made them permanent.

There is a way to help house homeless vets! Not every veteran has a roof over their heads and many of them sleep on the street. You can donate now to help give these vets a home. They fought for our home; now let’s fight for theirs. Your donation helps take a homeless veteran off the streets and into their own place.


 Do you have tattoos of your own?

Show us your War Ink!


Will S. is a left-handed bibliophile who now owns a cherry-red Schwinn Traveler III. On summer afternoons you can almost see his vermilion shadow passing you at great speeds.
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