KQED Radio
KQED Newssee more
Latest Newscasts:KQEDNPR
Player Sponsored By
upper waypoint

Veterans Use Tattoos to Share Their War Stories

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

 (James Tensuan/KQED)

War veteran Ron “Doc” Riviera says, “Every tattoo on my body tells a story. If people would just ask, they wouldn’t get a movie or a book, they’d get the real thing.” Riviera is part of an online exhibit called “War Ink,” which uses the stories behind veterans’ body art to bridge the often difficult gap between the civilian and military worlds. On this Memorial Day, we’ll hear from three soldiers who participated in the project.

This program was originally broadcast on Veterans Day, 2014.

Images from 'War Ink'

Photos by Johann Wolf

"I was very fortunate to be in the company of some incredible men, who were chosen by a force that I don't understand, to have fallen in combat. And the sad part is, there's not enough room on my back to put all the dog tags…"


Jason Deitch, U.S. Army veteran and co-creator of War Ink

Mike Ergo, Iraq War veteran, U.S. Marine Corp

Heather Hayes, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, U.S. Air Force

Russell Toll, Iraq War veteran, U.S. Army


-Russell Toll

"I think the importance of creating a bridge to connect the veteran and civilian cultures is something that cannot be overlooked. When we can find common ground as people, then cooperation and community is made possible. My hope is that the idea of letting veterans tell their stories stays true and the project can avoid putting us in the stereotypical lights of heroes, perpetrators or broken people who need pity."

-Mike Ergo

"I don't regret any tattoos because they all represent that moment in my life. It's like a map of my journey. It's art that I get to carry with me forever."

– Heather Hayes

– Heather Hayes

More About the Project

lower waypoint
next waypoint
How Influencers and Algorithms Undermine Democracy — and How to Fight BackBikes Stolen In the Bay Area Show Up On Global BlackmarketNeuroscientist Rahul Jandial Explains Why We DreamAnnalee Newitz on How Stories are WeaponizedGrace Jung’s ‘K-Drama School’ Unpacks a Pop Culture PhenomenonSlow Burn Podcast Excavates Bay Area LGBTQ History with ‘Gays Against Briggs’Music Critic Ann Powers on ‘Traveling’ on Singer-Songwriter Joni Mitchell’s PathThe Global Battle to Control Food and Water Chronicled in Documentary ‘The Grab’National Academies Push for New Definition of Long COVID‘Father Time’ Explores How Parenthood Alters Men’s Brains and Bodies