Jan. 18 2012 06:05 PM

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

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.”

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28