June 4th, 2008

Gallery show this saturday

This Saturday I'll have a piece from War Paint: Tattoo Culture and the Armed Forces up at the Newman Galleries on 16th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. These things look really nice at 20x30.

This is Bob Dorn, his photo isn't the one that's hanging.

Robert Dorn
United States Navy

This tattoo? Hotel street. Honolulu. Three dollars.

I was a kid, 17 years old, and I wanted to be a salt, like Popeye. We all did -- we wanted to be big shots. So we walked down Hotel street on liberty -- Hotel was where all the tattoo shops were and where all the sailors hung out. Let's go in there and hey! we'll be salts -- you know, everybody gets a tattoo in the Navy -- and you're thinking: I'm going to be grown up. And we all thought we were going to be grown up. Some of the guys got girls names -- "Mary" or "Jane" and they came home and they married someone with a different name. Some guys got tattooed with nude Hawaiian dancers, and they had to put skirts on them when they came home. I could tell you some stuff -- you wouldn't believe what some guys got tattooed on them. But back then, everything went -- you were going over seas -- I guess if you were coming home it would be a different story.

I was with admiral Halsey's 3rd fleet -- headed towards Iwo Jima. We wanted to see Japs -- it's all we wanted to do. We couldn't wait to see the Japs. And then you get in combat and you're thinking What am I doing here? Then you grow up real fast.

The air attack off of Okinawa -- it was a blood bath -- we lost more ships and men than in all the wars before combined. There were almost 40 ships sunk. We were only 200 or 300 miles from Tokyo, so they came continually, because they were coming from land bases. It was all day, all night -- they follow your tracers.

We were hit by Kamikaze planes three times. We shot seven down, but we were hit three times. It never ended, they were constantly attacking. When they were strafing the deck I could see the bullets coming towards me, the ship was on fire, and my signal flags caught fire. I tried to put them out. You don't know how to react, because you've never experienced anything like that.

You don't know what you'll do -- I didn't have anything I could do, I was a signal man, I didn't have no gun. Our flag got cut down, some of the guys got a gaff and put that flag back up again -- they tied it up so that it didn't hit the deck. Those are the things you do inadvertently and you don't know why -- you don't know what to do, because you never went through anything like it. It's hard to explain to people who weren't there. The mind just says Oh my God, what am I doing? Don't hit me. War is something ... if you weren't there ... you can't explain it.

We got the Presidential Unit Citation, which is the highest award a ship could get. Our commander, he got the Navy Cross.

I drive a school bus now, I'm 81 years old, and I look at these kids and I think: This is what we were -- these were the kids who fought WWII, who landed at Normandy. You hear these stories, it's just kids. You ask me Why did you get a tattoo? and it's just: We were kids. You see kids today with rings in their noses -- they're just kids. It's just what a 17 year old would do.

Am I boring you?
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