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"In the end, only kindness matters."
YAM #3 (Yet Another Memory) - My Tattoo 
7th-Dec-2006 03:23 pm
(Of late, my memory certainly isn’t what it used to be. So I thought, for a while, I should devote some journal entries to random events from my own distant youth.)

(Photo from http://www.vcsc.k12.in.us/staff/mhutch/modpres/truman/A-Bomb.gif)

In a much earlier posting here, I talked about my tattoo. In that 2001 blurb I wrote:

“I grew up in Gary, Indiana in the 1950’s. Like most people from my generation, we had our A-bomb drills every week, when the air raid sirens would howl and all of us kids would dive under our school desks in the properly tucked posture. I remember, as a young boy, looking up every time an airplane flew over … hoping it wasn’t a Russian bomber (in INDIANA of all places). The McCarthy hysteria seemed to be particularly rampant in the Midwest. We kids were taught not to trust our neighbors - you never knew who might be a Commie intent on taking over the world.

(Photo from the Detroit News)

Unlike others of my generation, however, as I said, I had the privilege of growing up in Gary, Indiana. The authorities were sure that the first place in the U.S. that the Russians were going to bomb would surely be our own precious steel mills. This fear reached such a great height that they – now I’m not fooling you here - they took every kid in the city and tattooed their blood type on the side of their torsos. I still have mine here as my own badge of living with all that hysteria. Think of it – isn’t all of this a hell of a way to raise innocent kids?”

(end of quote)

(My Tattoo)

Now, two or three times in the ensuing decades, when I've met someone who grew up in Gary during the '50s, we’ve ended up lifting our shirts (to the amazement of onlookers) just to bond by comparing our tattoos.

My older brother used to always explain to me (I think he loved scaring the hell out of me) that when they dropped the bomb they'd be able to pick up that piece of skin from my side and be able to say "Yup! He was an Oh-positive, uh-huh!" (Big brothers will never change, god bless 'em)).

He later told me that when he was about to get his tattoo, he asked why they couldn’t do it on his arm and they told him that his arm might get blown off in the coming A-blast (I guess this was long before any sensitivity-training for interacting with children). He said that at that moment, he instantly found out what weak knees were all about (he was all of 12 years old).

I remember that each class lined up behind a curtain where the tattoos were being given. While waiting in line, we could hear the sound of the tattoo "gun," with it's loud vibrating noise, immediately followed by screams and sobbing and crying. Needless to say, it was all pretty scary.

This macabre scene came AFTER they had pricked our little fingers to actually type our blood. We were given i.d. cards to carry in our wallets. These cards listed our name, address and blood type, etc. The coolest thing on the card, though, was the printed circle in which we smeared our blood. Never figured out what the smear was good for other than to let us know that our blood was red (for a kid, though, it was pretty neat, huh?). Maybe it was just to give us a little souvenir of this torture session. I wonder if mine is still upstairs somewhere in my attic?

Our mom, being a schoolteacher, also got the Tattoo. Her session, however, resulted in a string of AB-s down her side because either: (a) she jumped; (b) the "gun" slipped; or (c) both.

Since my O+ looks like the sign of Venus (well, when I’m lying on my back), I always made up some story about being abducted as a child by Amazons and forced to be their Love-Slave...or, as I got older, I used to say that I belonged to a free-love commune in the '60s and all the men were tattooed with the sign of Venus, while all the women were tattooed with the sign of Mars...amazingly, many people BELIEVED these outrageous stories (well, the second one, at least), perhaps because their initial incredulity was blown away by the tattoo, itself.

My first attempts to google this whole program have resulted in nothing. “They” must have done a pretty good cover-up of a botched program. I did, though, find some more information from an earlier graduate from my old high school that sheds some further light on it. His name is Al Shanahan. I never met the fellow, but I copied the following from the Miller Beach web site.


At some point in the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, and at the start of the "Cold War" process that was to last for many years, our government made preparations for what was believed to be an inevitable war with the U.S.S.R.

Drugs, including morphine, codeine, barbiturates and amphetamines were stockpiled in "hidden" locations around the country, later to be looted by knowledgeable dope crooks. Sections of the new "Inter-State High Way System" were paved in straight and level sections to be used as "emergency airfields" in the event of nuclear war. (There is now some speculation about this high way project/airfield plan, but it appears that some, if not the entire story is true).

"Drop and Cover" programs were instituted in schools all over the U.S. I remember that we were told to "not look at the bright light" and immediately get under our desks and cover our heads with our hands".

"Atomic" bomb shelters were sold as pre-fab kits to be installed underground in back yards, and you were instructed to stock your shelter with water, and "C" rations from the nearest military surplus store, and there were several in Gary.

Gary, and "The Region" as we were known then throughout the State of Indiana, was thought to be a prime target for Russian intercontinental missiles. The steel and oil producing capabilities of northwest Indiana were considered to be major and "first hit" targets in any attack.

As a part of this overall governmental thought process, it was "obvious" that in the event of an attack there would be massive casualties in addition to the immediate deaths caused by a nuclear explosion. The local hospitals, Saint Mary's Mercy and Methodist in Gary, and Saint Catherine's and Saint Margaret in Hammond, and a few others in the general Lake County area would be immediately inundated with huge numbers of seriously injured patients, some requiring immediate and drastic attention.

To speed up the process of "Triage", (worst injury first), a project was started that would identify the blood type of the patient with just a glance, and not require lengthy lab work.

The idea was to identify the blood type of first school children, and eventually the entire population, and tattoo the blood type at some place on the body, usually near or just under the left armpit, but that location was not universally utilized.

The idea was that in an emergency, having the blood type of the patient immediately known at the first cursory examination, would speed up the treatment and save valuable lab time for other patients.

This project was known as "OPERATION TAT TYPE". I know for a fact that several schools in the Gary/Miller area participated in the initial attempts to establish this data base of personal information.

I believe that some/all students attending William A. Wirt School during the years of 1948 through 1955 (my guess, not founded in fact) were in fact blood typed and then given a tattoo of their blood type.

The program was short lived for what is now an obvious reason. No doctor would accept the tattoo as fact without first re-checking the blood type to make sure that it was correct. This unforeseen, but now obvious, error in the program caused the "TAT TYPE" program to close by no later than 1955.

Al Shanahan
WAW 1953

(Subsequent Al Shanahan follow-up)

In the 1960s I met a person in Lake County who told me a story about how the "TAT-TYPE" program came to Gary during the "Cold War."

This person was at the time an employee of the City of Gary, and a political insider in Lake County. He/she told me that the federal government was having great difficulty in starting a pilot project using the TAT-TYPE idea.

There were widespread worries about the program in its entirety, but there was particular concern about using a tattooing device on young children. There were other problems with the plan as well, and no one was willing to become involved in tattooing grade school children.

I was told that the federal government "gave" a large sum of money to the City of Gary to induce them to become the first major city in this country to institute the TAT-TYPE plan. That sum of money, assuming that it did in fact exist, never appeared in the bookkeeping of the City of Gary and was never accounted for.

He/she then told me that the government also "donated" a similar large amount of money to a church group in Lake County that ran several grade schools in the area.

The church group then also allowed the government to TAT-TYPE the grade school children in several of the local parochial schools. I have not been in touch with anyone who actually received a TAT-TYPE tattoo in a parochial grade school.

(Note from Douglas: on the Miller Beach website, when I raised this memory about 7 years ago, there were probably two dozen folks from various public and parochial schools who responded about their own experiences and memories of being tattooed).

It is obvious from the numerous responses that I received about the TAT-TYPE program, that the inducement from the government was successful. The City of Gary or the church group, though, has never accounted the money that was alleged to have exchanged hands.

Much later, when I had some time to try to verify or refute this story, all of the city, state and federal records of the TAT-TYPE program had disappeared. The federal government could not locate any record of funding for the program, and in essence the TAT-TYPE program never existed, at least on paper or in official records.

The person who provided me with this information is now long dead. Over the years I became more and more curious about the total number of kids who participated in the program. I wondered if the schools in Miller and several of the parochial schools in Gary were the only school systems actually involved in a tattooing program.

Those of you who did in fact participate in the TAT-TYPE program are unique in this country, to the best of my knowledge. No other major city (and perhaps no other city or town at all)that I can locate ever initiated the TAT-TYPE program.

The exact sum of money (alleged to be 1/2 million dollars) "donated" to those who approved the project in Gary remains a mystery. How the money was distributed, or if it was disbursed at all is also in question, and these are questions not likely to be answered now, 50 plus years after the fact.

If you have a blood type TAT-TYPE tattoo, you are among the very few in this country who actually participated in this unique program. You may in fact be the only ones!

My thanks to all of you who responded to my original inquiry. I'm sorry that I don't have more complete information to finalize this short chapter in the interesting history of Gary and Lake County, Indiana.

Al Shanahan (Wirt High School – 1953)

Hugh A. Shanahan
13th-Dec-2006 09:04 pm (UTC) - Atomic Tattoos
Hi, I edit a Cold War popular culture site and we just posted a piece on Atomic Tattoos:


I'd like to learn more about your story. Please drop me a line at bill.geerhart@conelrad.com

18th-Oct-2009 07:25 pm (UTC) - Re: Atomic Tattoos
Hi, a friend was curious, too me telling that i have one of those blood type tattoo and so he went on the enternet and found the artical. And it was done in Gary indiana, i was going to Calument Highschool at the time it was done
If you would like to email me my web site is tahoeearnie@yahoo. com Thank you , my nick mane is earnie, hope too get a reply from you
21st-Dec-2006 09:07 pm (UTC) - Sterilization
Did you notice that after they tagged you, the just pulled the little 0+ (or what ever you type), head off of the buzzer and attacked the next victums blood type? Ah, that wonders of infectious deseases.

The next person who needed 0+? They just picked up that head, popped it on and stuck you.

Hope you didn't laugh. One person I say in college had 0- about 15 times in a neat little row. He said he laughted because it tickled and the tat machine just bounced up his side.

Better living through chemistry.
12th-Feb-2007 01:35 pm (UTC) - my mom
My Mom grew up in Shereville Indiana. And has one of these tattoos.
I thought about getting one lkike it in her honor. I have no tattoos at present. Her life story to me is fascinating. Growing up in rural Indiana. Moved from an apartment in Chicago that was too small for this growing family. Eventually my grandparents had 10 kids in all.
My grandmother almost died ....got cancer....got it taken care of..and went on to have 3 more kids. Talk about your strong women.

This is the first thing I found when searching for this topic online.

12th-Feb-2007 11:21 pm (UTC) - Atomic Tattoos
I like many grew up in the gary school system in the 50's. My school was tolleston. The one thing I find unusual if not scary is the fact that all of this was done without the parents approval - imagine your child coming home from school with a tattoo. I can remember getting our small pox vacine without our parents approval. My father had a fit.

One other thing That I saw mentioned with the money transfer, if there was one. If we remember who the mayor was I believe he ended up in prison for some type of fraud. Sorry, I can't spell his name correctly It went something like Charcharise. I guess in Gary anything can happen.
13th-Feb-2007 12:11 pm (UTC) - Re: Gary Politics
George Chacharis was sent to prison for tax evasion (though, as I remember, he pleaded guilty in the face of other allegations of kick-backs from local contractors in return for contracts with the city.

I was only a kid, but I think that I recall that he was the first US Mayor that was ever sent to prison (though, looking back with today's eyes, that seems improbable (and pretty mild)).

I do remember that he was well-liked by the general public and that he was thinking of running for mayor again while he was still in jail (sort of like Buddy Cianci in Providence, RI a few years ago).
17th-Feb-2007 03:35 pm (UTC) - Tattoo
Hi Doug! Shocked the hell out of my son and daughter-in-law yesterday when I responded to the question of "do you have a tattoo" with a "YES!" Then I had to TRY and explain why I had my blood type tattooed on my side! They didn't believe me until I googled "blood type tattoo" and ran across Conelrad.com and the story with your comments. Thought I would respond and say "HI" ....hope all is well and are you coming to the reunion in August?
16th-Jul-2008 05:13 am (UTC)
Com > Levittown, ny USA - I hope all is well with all of you guys. Yeh, my brother Rog is still nuts, but I have clamed down over the years.
4th-Mar-2007 02:41 am (UTC) - TAT TYPE tatoo
Whatever its origin and funding, this program was not limited to Gary. I had this "experience" in the mid-50's in the Munster public (grade) school. I don't know anything about parental consent or funding, but my experience suggests that the phenomenon may be broader - at least within the "Region" - than is recognized here.

Patrick Horan
4th-Aug-2007 07:18 pm (UTC) - Federal records
I have heard of that tat-type program and the problem with it.I think the government should do something about it.
Cara Fletcher
17th-Oct-2007 02:35 pm (UTC) - TAT
I don't know if this TAT program was in use outside the Gary limits. I have mentioned it to people from California to Florida and nobody ever heard of such a thing.I got mine in 1952 at Tolleston and still have the card that was handed out with all your blood type info on it.I remember hearing screams from time to time coming from behind the screen.(sheet hanging up), so I broke into a sprint I was out of there, but was brought back and put at the front of the line.With tats being so popular now it is fun to say I've had mine 55 years.Any comments to share?...write Deckhand002@yahoo.com
19th-Nov-2007 06:45 pm (UTC) - i have a tat
I also grew up in gary, indiana. went to st. mark school. there i was tattooed
my older sister was also. people ask and when i tell them the truth no one believes me. great to know that others have the same problems. i could never figure out why we had to hid under the desk. if a bomb did hit the steel mills we would be died anyway, from the fall out. sure would like to hear more about your history.

4th-Mar-2008 12:17 am (UTC) - 50s
I too grew up in the 50s and remember well the tats for blood type. I now look at how stupid getting under the desk would be in an atomic attack. If that's all we had to do they do not have a very good weapen there.My blood type still shows very clear.Growing up in thise times was such a bonus. Tme was when a kid could play outside.Ike was responsible for much of our highway systems. Coming from the war he saw how hard it was for troop movements due to bad road conditions.Think back to all the inovations that came our way.wow! Most people take those for granted today. They can not imagine life without some of these things.

mike b
1st-May-2008 10:33 pm (UTC) - Re: 50s
I was curious if anyone else had the blood type tatoo on the left side under their arm. I grew up in Brighame City, Utah,Box Elder County. I didn't know about the school kids getting tatoo'd in school until today when I went for my yearly mamogram. The technician told me about other patients much younger than I that had the tatoo done in grade school in Cache County Utah. I was 19 or 20 when I had mine. I thought it was only in Utah.
20th-May-2008 06:58 pm (UTC) - Tat Type
Today while I had an appointment with my dermatologist, I was trying to explain why I had my blood type tattooed. She recommended I google for more information and I was pleased to find this site. My tattoo was done in Hammond, Indiana and I attended Morton School. Both my older sister and younger brother received tattooes as well. When my brother got his, he screamed so loud, the remaining people in the building stampeded out of the place. Years later, my sister learned she had the wrong type on her side. Today was the first time I learned I was part of a test project. Thanks for all the information.
2nd-Jan-2009 03:37 pm (UTC) - 1950s in Gary, Indiana
I too am a product of the 50s growing up in Gary, Indiana and have that blood type tattoo also but mine is so blurred, you cannot read it. My doctor always ask me "what is that" at each annual physical. Lived near St. Mark School (Ridge Road & Jackson st)in Glen Park and carried mail from Buchanan to Grant streets from 43rd to 47th Ave from 1964-68 and was a '56 Hornet (Lew Wallace) Have my own website depicting memories of 1950s Gary at http://www.geocities.com/cbmams/Memories/wayback.htm
20th-Jul-2009 08:45 am (UTC) - Tattoos
All of the original Wirt class of 1961 were tattooed in either 1948 or 1949. As I recall it was '48 and we were in kindergarten in the "projects". My friend Bill (Whitey) Woldt is type 0+ but B+ was tattooed on his left side. In the late 60's people found it hard to believe when I'd say, " I got a tattoo when I was five" After 61 years my first tat is now unreadable. (-: Hugh Goetz
23rd-Sep-2009 03:17 am (UTC) - Tat Type Tattoo
Wow, I am not crazy!!!!! I, too, went to grade school in Gary, and when I was in 1st grade (1954) I was tattooed on my left side with my blood type A+. All I remember about it was a gun coming at me and me screaming!!!! I thought everyone had one - we moved to Hobart and no one had one!!! I have since moved on and when asked about my tattoo and when I tell them about the circumstances they don't believe it. No one had ever heard of such a thing. I thought I had made it all up until I look at my side - yep it is still there. I did know it had to do with the bomb.
4th-Nov-2009 01:46 pm (UTC) - My husband has one, but I don't
My husband, who went to elementary school in Hobart Indiana has one. He would have entered grade school around 1950. He has the "mark of the Region" on his left side (not his arm).

On the other hand, I attended Gary schools (Lew Wallace School in Glen Park when it accommodated all grades) beginning in 1953 and I don't recall anyone in our class being tatted. This phenomena if you want to call it that, must have only lasted for one year.

Woody must have blocked it out because he remembers wriggling but didn't remember it hurting all that much. He DOES remember the screams and tears of other students however. He thinks he heard of some sort of mass exodus of students but not in the group he was in. He still has his card somewhere in a dresser drawer.

I was never aware of the program and didn't really see his tattoo until we were dating and went to the beach. I asked him about it then and he said he got it in school. Puzzled me because I didn't have one nor did I hear of the program. I thought it was kind of cool but never really knew the REAL story until reading about it on this website. You're right, there is very little information about this program anywhere.

I remember Mayor Chacharis... Embarrassing to be sure, even for kids that lived in the city. But after we married we lived in Ohio where politicians regularly went to jail and now we live in WV where governors went to jail, so perhaps Chacharis' felonies prepared us for what was to come! Do I remember a judge who also had problems in Gary? Katz? My memory isn't very good about those old days any more.

Conelrad kids eh? Fun label for not so fun times. I remember the 'duck and cover' black and white movies we use to see and the endless drills under the desks and the hallways of the school. The older kids had it pretty well nailed down. There used to be signs in the school about "what to do in case of nuclear attack" instructing us to get down low, tuck our heads down between our legs, yadda yadda. The older kids would put a little of their own graffiti to the signs and one would see the words "and kiss your a_ _ goodbye" to them when they could. The signs came down rather rapidly after that I believe but they always made fun reading for the smaller of the Glen Park kids. And provided a practical solution for them as well. :-)

I remember the discussions that the mills would be prime targets for any A-bombs that Russia fired our way. That was scary, but we really, as kids, didn't comprehend what the realities would be if a bomb did come our way. All we knew is it would be bad, not to look at the flash, get as low as possible, and if we followed the instructions of the older kids, kiss a part of our anatomy goodbye.

What a time to grow up in. Suppose that made us the 60s kids we turned into later?

This is an interesting conversation and I'll continue to check back. How about a Conelrad kids reunion? Heck, I'd feel left out all over again. But hearing about the screaming and crying children - maybe I'm a lucky one after all.

BTW, my husband's tattoo is still very readable.

23rd-Jun-2012 03:29 am (UTC)
I also have the tattoo. I lived in Chicago, but my parents were visiting my grandmother in Indiana near Cedar Lake and we attended some fair; I believe it was in '51 or '52 - and they were tattooing folks at the Fair.

After spending an entire career in the Navy - that's the only tattoo I have: B+
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