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How times have changed!


Al Gilkes

How times have changed!

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I READ with some amusement last week that the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) had alerted aspiring recruits that they would be wasting their time trying to enlist if they have tattoos on any parts of their bodies, other than where the sun doesn’t shine.
In fact, I was not even aware until then that this was now BDF policy since I was part of that post-World War II generation who grew up convinced that military servicemen always went gun in hand and tattoo on arm.
I, for one, spent my formative years living next door to the then United States Naval Facility at Harrison Point in St Lucy and I cannot recall ever seeing any of the men stationed there, be it a regular sailor, a commissioned officer, a captain or a commander, who did not have one or more tattoos proudly and even patriotically displayed on arms, forearms and other parts of the body.
In fact, it was actually the same United States Navy that is credited with introducing the art of tattooing to the United States in the early 1900s, when sailors returned from service in distant lands showing off their “skin-art souvenirs”.
I also grew up during a period when Hollywood devoted itself almost exclusively to the production of war movies, canning the exploits and sacrifices of the men in uniform on land, in the air and at sea. It is recorded that World War II was arguably the richest source of cinematic material in history, spawning hundreds of films dealing with actual fighting, the lead-up to it or the aftermath.
I was never blessed with one of those memories whereby people recall in full detail a movie I watched 50 years ago. I can’t even recall one from two nights ago. Nevertheless, I still do remember titles like The Longest Day, The Bridge On The River Kwai, Bataan, Back To Bataan, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, From Here To Eternity, The Guns Of Navarone, Guadacanal, To Hell And Back, The Bold And The Brave, Run Silent Run Deep, and Never So Few, to name a few.
These were movies we were packed like sardines to see and see again in chink-biting cinemas with almost forgotten names like Plaza, Roxy, Gaiety,  and Olympic.
But what still flickers in the memory about all of those movies is that there was inevitably one scene where, while under heavy enemy bombardment, a marine, soldier, airman or sailor would embolden himself by fixing his attention on his country’s flag or the name or depiction of a loved one tattooed on his arm or other part of the body.  
I was reading one writer on the subject who noted that although times have changed, the United States military’s love affair with tattoos has not, and that today, it seems, you couldn’t throw a rock into an army formation without hitting a soldier with at least one tattoo.
He also noted that after the start of military action in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, more and more service members were getting memorial tattoos.
“For the many today who have lost their friends and comrades, these pieces serve as a silent tribute when words are not enough.”
I guess whereas I will continue to identify the United States servicemen by their tattoos, I will identify their Barbadian counterparts by the absence.
• Al Gilkes heads a public relations firm. Email [email protected]

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