Tattoo Artist


MARCH 31, 2003 · Jesse Mays owns the Sleeping Dragon tattoo parlor in Jacksonville, N.C., a few miles from the Marine base, Camp Lejeune. Last week, 11 Marines who'd been stationed there were killed and eight more are reported missing. Mays, who's been tattooing for about 25 years, says he was busy in the weeks before the war, tattooing the arms and backs of many young men who are now in Iraq. This is his War Diary.

I've been doing a lot of large scary tattoos. It seems like they're wanting to get tattoos to scare the Iraqis when they get over there. And I'm doing a lot of religious stuff, like prayer hands and crosses; it seems like a lot of crusader type tattoos. And meat tags. A meat tag is a tattoo that's placed on the side of the body that identifies the individual if they're unconscious or dead. We put their name, their social security number, their gas mask size, blood type and religion.

Skull tattoo
Photo gallery

I did a fairly large demon on a guy not too long ago that went over there. His idea was that because of the last war, the Iraqis were told that Marines had to kill a loved one and eat their dead and stuff like that, and he wanted a tattoo that represented that. It had three eyes, some horns and a lot of drooling. It was pretty cool looking. Of course, I told him when he left to keep his head down, you know, so he'd come back alive, so I could do some more tattoo work on him. Course, I tell that to all of 'em that leave here.

I already seen several of 'em aren't going to be coming back. I'm kind of heartsick about that, but that is war. And they knew the circumstances and what they volunteered to do.

The Sleeping Dragon tattoo parlor

Camp Lejeune

NPR's Privacy Policy

Copyright 2003 NPR