Dalton native Johnny "Joey" Jones got his first tattoo in 2005.
"I was in Twentynine Palms, California (home of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center), just out of boot camp," he recalled. "I had earned a title, achieved a goal. I had earned the title of Marine and got an eagle, globe and anchor (the symbol of the Marine Corps) tattooed on my left shoulder. I think before you go and mark your body up, you should earn it."
Jones, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant who was severely injured in Afghanistan and who is a contributor for Fox News, will host a new show, "USA Ink," that debuts Friday on the Fox Nation streaming service. The five-episode series will examine the history of tattooing and its spread into American culture, particularly American military culture.
A Southeast Whitfield High School alumnus, Jones served two combat deployments and eight years of active duty in the Marine Corps. In 2010, he was injured while deployed in Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal technician. An IED (improvised explosive device) blast cost him both legs below the knee.
Following his 2012 discharge from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Jones attended Georgetown University and received a bachelor of arts degree in liberal studies concentrated in social and public policy. He has been an activist for veterans and their families for several years.
Jones said he hopes people who watch the series learn more about tattoos and why people choose to get them.
"My generation looks at tattoos a little bit differently than my parents' generation and my grandparents' generation," he said. "There are some things in my life that were so important to me or so devastating to me that I wanted to write it on my skin to remind me of it. Each one my tattoos is not just a piece of art, it marks an important event in my life."
Asked how many tattoos he has, Jones said that's a difficult question to answer.
"I have a sleeve (full covering of tattoos) on my left arm, and I'm not sure how many tattoos are built into that sleeve," he said. "I just know my entire left arm and shoulder are covered. I've got my whole chest and right rib cage and part of my right arm."
Asked if one tattoo stands out for him, he paused for a second.
"It's in the bend of my elbow," he said. "You can barely see it. Most people never see it. It's the tab of a zipper, and it's on the end of a scar that goes from the base of my hand to my elbow with skin grafts and staples. The staples kind of look like a zipper. I got it for two reasons. One, it sneaks up on people. They rarely ever see it. And two, it's very simple but it signifies so much. My arm was never supposed to work again. It was completely numb for the first three months of my recovery, and then one day it started working again. This scar represents all of the work that those surgeons put in to making my hand work again and my arm work again."
Jones said the idea for the series came from Fox Nation producer Aaron Levine.
"He's a great guy and really into comic books and American culture," Jones said. "He read a definitive history of American tattoos and thought it was a great thing. One of the things he found is that the history of tattoos is interwoven with our military tradition. He came up with the idea, and he thought I would be a good person to help tell this story, and that's how it all came together."
Jones said one thing the series will look at is the link between tattoos and the military.
"It goes back to sailors sailing the world and interacting with other cultures, particularly in the Pacific islands and the Caribbean islands, and saw tattoos," he said. "Tattoos have often been part of a warrior culture. There have been times in American society when those with tattoos were sort of outcasts from society, and some veterans also felt like outcasts as well, so they adopted tattoos."
One of the stops Jones made while filming the series was in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"There's a very exclusive tattoo artist there who goes by the name Will XX," he said. "His tattoo studio is set up more like an art studio. There are pieces of art he has acquired that were inspired by tattoos or inspired tattoos. He is also a veteran. That's how I met him. He does a tattoo for me that is unveiled in the last episode of the show. "
Jones said he "isn't trying to change anyone's mind" about tattoos. But he hopes that after watching the series viewers can understand what tattoos mean to some people.
"I've got a dog tag for Sgt. Chris McDonald tattooed under my left bicep, under my arm," he said. "I got that tattoo along with five other guys who grew up with Chris and went to Southeast Whitfield High School. We all played sports with him. Some of us served (in the Marine Corps) with him. We got those tattoos in Dalton after his funeral in 2012. That's why tattoos are so important to me. It's how a bunch of us who went to school together and played football together stay connected to each other and to where we are from."
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