boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Marines institute curb on tattoos

OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- Five tattooed skulls stretch from Marine Corporal Jeremy Slaton's right elbow to his wrist, spelling out the word "Death." He planned to add a tattoo spelling "Life" on his left arm, but that's on hold because of a Marine policy taking effect Sunday.

The Marines are banning any new, extra-large tattoos below the elbow or the knee, saying such body art is harmful to the Corps' spit-and-polish image.

Slaton and other grunts are not pleased.

"I guess I'll get the other half later," grumbled the 24-year-old leatherneck from Eden Prairie, Minn. "It's kind of messed up."

For many Marines, getting a tattoo is a rite of passage. They commonly get their forearms inscribed to remember fallen comrades, combat tours, or loved ones, and often ask for exotic designs that incorporate the Marine motto, Semper Fi, or "Always faithful."

Dozens of Marines from Camp Pendleton, the West Coast's biggest Marine base, made last-minute trips to tattoo parlors in nearby Oceanside before the ban kicked in.

"This is something I love to do," said Corporal David Nadrchal, 20, of Pomona, who made an appointment to get an Iraqi flag and his deployment dates etched onto his lower leg. "The fact I can't put something on my body that I want -- it's a big thing to tell me I can't do that."

Nadrchal said he is unsure whether he will reenlist: "There's all these little things. They are slowly chipping away at us."

Marine Corps Commandant General James T. Conway announced the policy change last week.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES