Veterans bare personal military tattoos for Bay Area art project

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On this Veterans Day, a unique art project in the Bay Area is giving service members an opportunity to allow their body art to speak for itself.

On Veterans Day an art exhibit debuted, whose canvas is the very people who've served our country in uniform. ABC7 News spoke with some of the veterans who bared their intensely personal military tattoos for a project called "War Ink."

"I served in Kurdistan, Iraq, Kuwait, South Korea," said one veteran. "

Another added, "I'm a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, and I served in Iraq."

So begins the video introducing two dozen veterans, whose tattoos tell a story.

Military tattoos bared for Bay Area art project called "War Ink."

"Sometimes you can't exactly put experiences and emotions into words," said U.S. Air Force veteran Heather Hayes. "And just looking at a picture, you just get it."

Hayes spent 10 years in the Air Force. Returning to civilian life, she sometimes feels like the half dead beauty tattooed on her left arm.

Military tattoos bared for Bay Area art project called "War Ink."

"She looks amazing from the outside, but there's that small portion that you see of her where it's just, she's broken and kind of dead sometimes inside," said Hayes.

The art represents things she doesn't always want to talk about. But she did for the online exhibit War Ink.

"The veterans themselves were often quite leery at the beginning until we had a chance to explain the mission," said War Ink co-creator Jason Deitch.

The project's put on by the Contra Costa County Library and the gallery is cyberspace.

Military tattoos bared for Bay Area art project called "War Ink."

"As accessible to as many as possible," Deitch said. "Not everybody can drive or go to a museum or to a gallery. Or would, for that matter."

The goal -- to break down the invisible walls that often come with returning from war.

"I get along fine with people," said U.S. Army veteran John Hammling. "I don't know how to open new relationships or sustain them once they're open."

Hammling spent four straight years with the same 20 people. Soon, all of them will have a tattoo on their right leg that reads: "Damage, Inc. 2nd Platoon."

Military tattoos bared for Bay Area art project called "War Ink."

"The hardships you had to go through, it just creates this bond that is unbreakable," he said.

"I have a lot of friends who just say, 'people don't get it. If they haven't been over there, I can't talk to them,'" Hayes said.

But though dark at times, those tattoos can speak volumes. And War Ink's creators hope they'll form the beginning of a dialogue between veterans and civilians.

"Probably the most powerful and significant act you can do this Veterans Day is just to listen," Deitch said.
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