Military tattoos bring back memories
A local Navy veteran recalls when he received a “dolphin pin” and a tattoo — all on the same night.
It was 1958, and Jerry Barber had returned from a trip to Pearl Harbor. He had just been promoted and was qualified as a submariner.
In order to receive a submarine warfare insignia pin, Barber had to learn about water, air and hydraulic systems, as well as tracking a target and setting a torpedo.
Some of his shipmates took him to the Dolphin Club in Honolulu. They put dolphin pins into a large glass and filled it up with different types of liquor, telling Barber he must get the dolphins with his teeth.
That involved Barber drinking the whole glass. He was 19 at the time.
The shipmates then took Barber to a tattoo parlor on Hotel Street, indicating he was going to wear his dolphins forever.
The tattoo design on his left arm is of two dolphins on each side of a submarine.
“Dolphins are supposed to take care of the submarine,” Barber, 74, said, during a recent interview in his Camas home.
He was on the USS Carp for 2 ½ years.
“We were just like a big family,” Barber said.
He recalls his captain’s nickname, “Slick” Gilbert.
“The captain was not too happy about the tattoo,” Barber said.
Members of the military are considered to be property of the government.
“The captain said, ‘I hope it does not get infected,’” Barber said. “People were getting tattoos all the time.”
He later spent almost six months on a nuclear-powered submarine, the Robert E. Lee.
Barber, a former resident of Ohio, graduated from Battle Ground High School in 1957.
“I went right into the Navy and got out in ‘61,” he said.
After serving in the Navy, Barber worked for nine months at the Crown-Zellerbach paper mill in Camas. He followed that up with working 6 ½ years at Alcoa, in Vancouver.
Barber left his job as a crane operator at Alcoa and became a merchant marine for 42 years. He was a refrigeration engineer on several ships. Barber retired two years ago.
These days, his tattoo continues to mean something to him.
“It means I was a proud submariner,” Barber said. “It brings back memories when I see it in the mirror.”
He has memories of the fun he and his Navy shipmates had when they went ashore.
“In Hawaii, we would drink and have fun and go to the beach on the weekends,” Barber said.
He recalls when his youngest son Dawayne, at the age of 3, thought the tattoo was dirt and tried to rub it off.
Barber has another son, Gerald, as well as five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Last year, Barber attended a reunion of former USS Carp personnel from several eras. Of the more than 24 attendees, there was one of his former shipmates from California.
Vet Ink: Military Inspired Tattoos
The exhibit features the images and stories of 11 Clark County veterans, including Jerry Barber, of Camas.
Where: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver.
When: Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
and from 5 to 9 p.m., on the first Thursday of each month, through Sept. 28.
Cost: $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, $2 for children and $10 for families
All veteran military personnel are admitted for free during the Vet Ink exhibit.
Active duty military personnel and their families with identification always get in at no cost.
There is no charge for Clark County Historical Society members.
Contact: 993-5679 or visit www.cchmuseum.org