Marines remember the fallen with ink and metal
BEAUFORT, S.C. — The pair devised their own celebration.
Following a good play — a touchdown reception for Jason Jarmond, a strong tackle by his friend “Bull” — they’d meet near the sideline, exchange three “low-fives,” turn, walk away from each other ... then suddenly spin back around, run and jump, meeting mid-air with a flying shoulder bump.
Jarmond, now a staff sergeant and senior drill instructor who greets new recruits “straight off the bus” at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, sat in a chair Thursday at the depot as he recounted the “signature celebration.”
His frame dwarfed the seat. Biceps strained the short sleeves of his camouflage blouse. Tattoos of city skylines marked the New York-native’s forearms.
Jarmond has 14 tattoos.
One of them hides beneath his shirt. It rests on the left side of his chest.
Boots. A downward-pointing rifle, a helmet atop its stock. The instantly recognizable battlefield cross, which, according to the Smithsonian Institute, might have originated in the Civil War but became more common during World Wars I and II — a marker for a temporary grave before the body could be removed and properly laid to rest.
Inked above the image on Jarmond’s chest is “All gave some.” Below it, “Some gave all.”
The tattoo does not bear Bull’s name; that was intentional. Bull’s memory inspired the artwork, Jarmond said, but his death is one of many who’ve served their country.
For some Marines, tattoos are a way of remembering and honoring fallen comrades. The images themselves vary, according to Beaufort-area tattoo artists: the battlefield cross is common, as are illustrations of dog tags and inscriptions of the deceased’s names and the dates they died.
But other memorial tattoos are more personalized, their meanings — to everyone except the wearer — less obvious.
Two 7s and a Joker
During a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan, then-Lance Cpl. Garrett Adams and his fellow Marines played cards during their downtime.
“Spades,” Adams, now a sergeant, said Wednesday. “Go Fish. War.”
After a convoy mission — after he’d survived his first encounter with an improvised explosive device — Adams received “a souvenir” from Cpl. Christopher Monahan: three cards, two 7s and a Joker.
“ ‘You’ve been there, done that,’ ” Adams said, explaining the gesture.
Monahan was “a mentor,” Adams said, a Marine who’d deployed twice before and who taught new troops about “everything from paperwork to life-and-death situations.”
On Nov. 26, 2012, an IED detonated beneath Monahan’s vehicle. The Island Heights, N.J., native was 25.
According to the Newark-based Star-Ledger, he talked to his mother two days before his death. Family members remembered him as “a guiding light to his mother,” and a “role model to his three young children.”
Today, Adams has a tattoo of the Grim Reaper holding a pair of 7s and a Joker. Shortly after his friend’s death, Adams’ wife mailed him an aluminum bracelet with Monahan’s name on it. He wore it in Afghanistan, but the harsh conditions mangled it — he ordered a stronger band, which he continues to wear to this day.
“Every day,” Adams said, looking at the silver bracelet. “I wake up every morning thankful I can still breathe, see my family. And I still have all my body parts. So I’m thankful.”
Adams, 25, a small-arms repair technician from Orangeburg, currently serves on Parris Island’s funeral detail, a rotating assignment shared between the depot and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
He thinks of his friend every time he directs the detail’s rifle team at services, and whenever he practices for them.
On his right hand, Billy Smith sports a sergeant’s insignia — yellow chevrons inked on a red background — a rank he once held in the Marine Corps.
At 39, the owner of Port Royal’s Yes, It Hurts! studio often tattoos Marines, active-duty and retired. When they want a memorial tattoo, he said, the process becomes much more intimate.
He recalled the story of “Tony,” a young Marine who’d lost many platoon mates in combat, and who lived with survivor’s guilt. Tony wanted a memorial tattoo. One of the images he ended up with, Smith said, was a rubber ducky.
“Dog tags was the initial plan,” Smith said, remembering when Tony first approached him. “ ‘But then you’re going to remember that you lost these guys,’ ” Smith continued, explaining he’d gently pushed back on the idea.
“And then he told me the story of the rubber ducky,” Smith said. “It was an icebreaker.”
One of Tony’s friends carried the toy with him everywhere — he’d bought it overseas with the intention of bringing it home to a child. As Smith listened, that story merged with another, then another and so on. A timeline formed, one that chronicled Tony’s and his friends’ journey from infantry school to the fleet, and finally, to war.
The rubber ducky, a rifle and a castle — a symbol used by combat engineers such as Tony — was the end result, arranged on the man’s arm like a florist might craft a bouquet, as Smith would say.
“We don’t want to celebrate (death),” Smith said, explaining that he might try to steer a veteran away from death dates, dog tags and battlefield crosses. “We want to celebrate that they were here.”
Like Smith, Clarissa and Dale Wills, owners of Port Royal’s Beauty Marks, tattoo a lot of military personnel.
Clarissa Wills served in the Army, her husband in the Corps.
His right arm features a battlefield cross that, at a distance, might look like others. But instead of the typical rifle, the weapon atop the boots is an M240 machine gun. And the image is set against a background of mountains and a red-tinged landscape — the color of the clay in Hawaii, where the Wills met friend Krisna Nachampassak.
“Nacho,” as Sgt. Nachampassak was nicknamed, died less than a decade later, in 2004, in Iraq, in a non-combat vehicle accident, according to the Washington Post. He was 27. He introduced Dale Wills to his soon-to-be wife.
In 2010, Clarissa Wills inked the battlefield cross on her husband’s arm.
Bull loved sports.
He wasn’t the life of the party, Jarmond said, but he was at the center of it.
He had a habit of saying something and smirking at himself. Then he’d laugh, Jarmond said, even if others didn’t find it funny. And he’d keep laughing, and convince everyone it was.
Bull’s is one of 4,411 U.S. service-member deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Department of Defense’s Defense Casualty Analysis System. More than 1,000 Marines have died in that war. Over 450 have died fighting in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Jarmond recently messaged his friend’s family and asked if they wanted to use Bull’s name in this article.
“They were like, ‘What’s it for?’ ” Jarmond said, remembering the text-message conversation.
“ ‘It’s for Memorial Day,’ ” he messaged back. “And they said, ‘It’s not just about him. Tell your story about him, but he’s not the only one.’ ”
On the football field, Jarmond played wide receiver. Bull was a safety. They were on the same team.
But in practice, they’d sometimes play against each other.
“He wasn’t bigger than me,” Jarmond said.
The Marine smiled.
“But he had technique.”
©2017 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)
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