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VAMP: Neighborhood Watch Aug 28, 2014 So Say We All's monthly live storytelling show featuring stories about the Neighborhood Watch, whether its literal tales about the self-appointed protectors of the block, run-ins with wannabe cops or any other take on the theme. 64 other events on Thursday, August 28
 
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Former customs agent got more than seven years for smuggling drugs and people into the U.S., but mysterious events are raising questions about the government’s prosecution
Film
Joe Swanberg’s new independent film starring Anna Kendrick leads our rundown of movies screening around town
Editorial
Formal complaint against the Probation Department shows how far local juvenile-detention practices are out of the mainstream
The Floating Library
What inspired me as I wrote my first novel

 

 
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Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012

A wounded warrior wears his traditional hand-tap tattoo as a badge of honor

Joe Gracia's inked-up leg is a symbol of his soldier story

By Kinsee Morlan
joegraciasoldier Joe Gracia's hand-tap tattoo
- Photo by Kinsee Morlan

In September 2007, Joe Gracia was a gunner in the turret of the lead Humvee in a convoy in southeastern Afghanistan. When the improvised explosive device went off, he remembers a blast of sand, but that’s it.

“I don’t really remember any sound, which is weird,” Gracia says.

Twenty-seven blood transfusions, 17 surgeries and years of rehabilitation later, Gracia is as healed as he’s going to get. He earned an honorable discharge and a Purple Heart, but he’ll be disabled for life.

“It’s not so bad,” he says. “The driver, who was 19, he died.”

Gracia rolls up his right pant leg to show his prosthetic leg. Then he rolls up his left pant leg to reveal a tribal tattoo. The patterns begin at his ankle and continue up the outside of his leg to his knee where there’s a bold African symbol that represents “oneness with god.” Every different pattern, he says, has meaning. When he’s done, the tattoo will go up to his armpit.

The piece is a traditional Polynesian hand-tap tattoo by Sulu’ape Angela Bolson at Big City Tattoo in North Park. Gracia told Bolson he wanted a hand-tap tattoo like the traditional pieces given to Hawaiian warriors as rites of passage. She helped him come up with patterns with the right meanings. Now, when people ask about the tattoo, he tells the story of his life as a soldier and the spirituality that came afterward.

“It’s a badge of honor,” Gracia says, “an accomplishment—just like if I were wearing medals on my chest.”




 
 
 
 
 
 
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