O.K., maybe one was 66 years old, and maybe the other was 64. The men’s reason for getting them was related, but very different. One was my father-in-law, Dee. He got his when he lied about his age to join the marines when he was 16. He had his left arm emblazoned with a bulldog wearing a helmet with ?Devildog?, the Marines mascot, written beneath it. Later in life he would lure unsuspecting kids into petting the dog and then scare them with a perfectly timed bark. We would almost wet ourselves with laughter. He fought bravely in World War II and saw unspeakable carnage at Iwo Jima and even saw the iconic flag raising there. It was a war with clearly defined enemies and allies.
The other man was named Frank. He would come to my gigs and soak up the music with the biggest grin on his face. Frank’s tattoo was also on his forearm but I doubt if he tried to get anyone to pet it. It was a serial number that was given to him in a Nazi concentration camp. Neither men talked much of their experience in WWII but Dee, who I knew much better, had a few tell-tale artifacts: he didn’t like fireworks or camping, both too reminiscent of his wartime experiences.
What struck me was the honor, humor, and love of life that both these men had in spite of, or maybe because of, their experiences. These men shared more than just getting tattoos in the 1940s. Even though one had the job of picking up his comrade’s body parts and the other saw unimaginable horror at Auschwitz they both transcended these experiences to live decades of productive lives. Sometimes it seems that we can make the choice of having our souls destroyed or tempered by what life throws at us