Tattoos have long been a hallmark of military service. Memorial tattoos, in particular, have a special place in the armed forces. Images inked on flesh can pay tribute to those who have served, salute the fallen, and help soldiers and their families commemorate life changing events.
Laura Monk decided a memorial tattoo would be the best way to honor the memory of her husband Austin, a soldier who died of leukemia in 2011.
"Maybe a year or so before Austin passed away, I asked him what tattoo he'd like," she said. "He said 'maybe my dog tags, on my forearm, with the string wrapping up to my armpit.' I told him it was so crazy to have his own name tattooed on his body."
She recalled that conversation after he died.
"It was kind of like he left me this memorial already put in place."
For veteran Lewis Hunt, one of his most meaningful tattoos honors the dead, but also celebrates those still living. It's an emblem that ties together three generations of family members who have served in the military, from World War II through the present day.
"My parents both have this tattoo," said Hunt. "After I got it and went overseas, my tattoo artist was like, 'Hey, your parents came in. They got the same tattoo.' My parents didn't start getting tattoos until their 60s. Now they've got them going down both arms and my mom's working on a leg."
"Tattoos can be a lot more than ink and skin."
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.