True stories of war, written in tattoos

When veteran Trésor Bunker first came to UC Berkeley last year, he didn’t mention that he’d served in the military. “There are so many stereotypes,” said Bunker in an article on the campus library’s website. “For a lot of vets, once you leave the military, you want to put it behind you, not keep talking about it.”

students looking at photo display

(UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

That’s why army veteran and Berkeley alumnus Jason Deitch co-founded War Ink, a project that uses tattoos to inspire civilians to learn more about veterans’ experiences. “The project aims to undermine the usual stereotypes — that a veteran is either a hero or a ticking time bomb of PTSD — and create real recognition, from one human being to another,” says Deitch.

The War Ink project — a documentary film, digital series and exhibit — highlights stories of combat veterans through memorial tattoos. The exhibit — striking, floor-to-ceiling portraits of men and women veterans displaying their tattoos — is a powerful representation of the effect combat has on veterans.

man looking at photo display

(UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

In one image, Mike Ergo, who served in the Marines and earned his bachelor’s and graduate degrees from Berkeley, stands with his hands on his hips, displaying a striking tattoo across his chest. “Put your preconceived notions on hold,” reads the plaque. “[Veterans] will be forgiving as long as you come across like someone who is okay with listening, really listening, not the ‘I’m waiting for my turn to talk’ listening, but active listening.”

In another photo, Victoria Lord stands with her arm extended, showing a brilliant arm tattoo and words written across her back, ending with “Love still stands when all else has fallen.” Lord, who was adopted from South Korea, joined the Navy right after high school and served on the medical team.

man looking at photo display

(UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

“I never really had a very strong family structure previously,” she says. “So when I joined the military, there was structure. There was a roof over my head, there was food on my table and there were people who were going to stand behind me no matter what. They taught me the real meaning of family.”

Jason Deitch

UC Berkeley alumnus Jason Deitch is the co-founder of War Ink. (UC Berkeley photo by Alejandro Serrano)

Co-creator Deitch is now part of the Program in Rehabilitation Neuroscience, run by Berkeley and the VA medical centers of Martinez and San Francisco. He says the campus is a natural fit for the War Ink exhibit and event. “Berkeley is about social action, serving something greater than yourself — like serving your country.”

Deitch founded War Ink with Chris Brown, deputy county librarian for Santa Clara County.

The War Ink exhibit will be on display in the corridor east of the Brown Gallery in the Doe Library through November.

Learn about the resources offered by the Cal Veteran Services Center.