SAN FRANCISCO — Heather Hayes sports a large tattoo of a skull wreathed with roses over one thigh. Above her ankle, a smaller tattoo shows a woman with a gun to her head, whose gushing blood turns into red butterflies.
These are shocking images, but they're ones Hayes, an Air Forces veteran who volunteered for road convoy-duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, says are an integral part of who she is. "I don't regret any tattoos because they all represent that moment in my life. It's like a map of my journey," she said.
Hayes is part of an online art exhibit that launched Tuesday, Veterans Day, and that will be showcased in California libraries. It features Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' tattoos, some as small as the word "ouch" and some covering most of the person's arms and torsos. The tattoos are vividly colored, reflecting military insignia and mottos, such as a Maya Angelou quote.
Others are highly personal. The idea for Patrick McQuaid's tattoo came from a friend who was attached to a platoon and was a big fan of Chuck Norris, who stars in the movie "Lone Wolf McQuade." After the military, McQuaid often feels like a lone wolf, he says in the interactive online exhibit, which mixes video, photographs and audio at WarInk.org.
The project's creator's, led by Chris Brown, a senior manager for a public library in Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco; and Jason Deitch, a U.S. Army veteran and social researcher, said the project attempts to use the photo and video interviews to help bridge the gap between combat experiences and civilian life.