U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Robert Patterson, of the Fort Benning Marine Detachment, shows off tattoos he received two years ago. James Elmer, a medically retired Soldier, is putting together a collection of Global War on Terrorism tattoos to feature in an as-yet-untitled book to be published next year.

FORT BENNING, GA - Since the early 1900s, American troops have tattooed themselves to declare pride in their units, remember loved ones and keep alive the memory of fallen comrades, according to the Vanishing Tattoo Web site. In a History Channel documentary titled The Kill Zone, troops recounted military tattoos that served as a reminder of hardships and struggles born together as a unit, and of troops left behind.

And now a Columbus man is working to bring memorial tattoos to the printed page.
As a medical platoon sergeant in Iraq, James Elmer said he saw the faces of the wounded and dying while serving with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in the Sunni "triangle of death" during Operation Iraqi Freedom 3. Now medically retired, Elmer's experiences have inspired an as-yet-untitled book, a collection of memorial tattoos, to portray the personal side of combat.

The Wounded Warrior Project is sponsoring Elmer's project, said Sam Vaden, coordinator for strategic partnerships for the WWP.

All of the proceeds will be donated to the foundation, which helps wounded troops transition back into the military or to civilian life, Elmer said.

"There are too many people with no connection to the military and all they see is that 5,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have been killed," he said. "They don't see the faces that go with those numbers."

Elmer said the project has been "cathartic" in helping him to heal from his combat experiences and the loss of a friend, SGT Michael Robertson. Today, Elmer bears a tattoo of Robertson's name wrapped around a purple heart on his right arm.

"Better men than me have lost their lives defending our country and people need to know that," he said. "Getting a tattoo for somebody, that's serious dedication, that's forever."
Elmer knows he is not unique in his desire to memorialize a fallen warrior in ink, and hopes to receive 100 submissions from others who've done the same.

Elmer's project, which he refers to under the working title Scars of War, may take up to a year to complete, he said, as he compiles photos of memorial tattoos and those they are in honor of as well as personal stories from tattooed troops. Elmer plans to dedicate a full page to each tattoo.

Elmer said he would accept tattoo submissions involving the Global War on Terror and fallen troops from any service.

For more information or to submit an image for the book, e-mail

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16