USMC Bulldog Tattoo Meaning

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The tradition of using an English bulldog as a mascot for the United States Marine Corps has its roots in the early part of the last century, in the fighting campaigns of World War I. 

A German Origin

In an interesting bit of turnaround, it is not an image which comes from within Marine Corps ranks but instead comes from the hard won respect of their foes. Legend has it that German soldiers referred to the Marines as teufel hunden or “devil dogs” at the Battle of Belleau Woods in 1918, likely owing to their hellacious fighting ability. Teufel hunden (or more correctly, Teufelshunde) were vicious, wild, and savage mountain dogs from Bavarian folklore.

The Bulldog Fountain in Belleau
The Bulldog Fountain in Belleau

Marine Corps

The Marine Corps apparently warmed to the compliment immediately and a recruiting poster of the era explicitly stated “Teufel Hunden, German Nickname for U.S. Marines” and gave the address of the “Devil Dog Recruiting Station”. 

U.S. Marines Recruiting Poster
U.S. Marines Recruiting Poster (Teufel hunden. German nickname for U.S. Marines. Devil dog recruiting station, ca. 1918)

The poster showed a dachshund (which is also sometimes called a “weiner dog”) wearing a spiked helmet with an Iron Cross (a German military medal) looking backwards as it ran from an English bulldog which wore a helmet with the Marine’s globe and anchor insignia. 

Marine Mascots

Not long after, real bulldogs were adopted as mascots in various parts of the Corps. At times given names and even ranks, some of these faithful mascots logged thousands of miles with their owners and namesakes. 

Jiggs II (foreground right) pictured with Smedley Butler, Bill, and Sergeant Thunder, in 1930
Jiggs II (foreground right) pictured with Smedley Butler, Bill, and Sergeant Thunder, in 1930

King Bulwark, the first mascot of the United States Marine Corps, was an English Bulldog who was officially enlisted in the Marine Corps on October 14th, 1922. He was personally signed in by Brigadier General Smedley Butler and given the name “Jiggs”. He was given a variety of tailored outfits, including various headgear, and insignia.

Today’s Mascot

Chesty XV is the current mascot of the United States Marine Corps. He’s a purebred male English Bulldog who is named after Chesty Puller.

Chesty XV, Pictured in 2018
Chesty XV, Pictured in 2018
Chesty Puller, United States Marine officer, in November 1950, during the Korean War.
Lt. General Chesty Puller, United States Marine officer, in November 1950, during the Korean War.

Today, the USMC bulldog ranks firmly in the minds not only of “devil dog” Marines but also the public as one of the most recognized mascots of the military.

USMC Bulldog Tattoo

Classic Americana flash would often show the bulldog wearing a World War I era helmet. And, like many USMC tattoos, their motto of Semper Fidelis (Latin for “always faithful”) would be featured in the design.

Marine Bulldog and Crossing Rifles
Marine Corps Bulldog and Crossing Rifles

In the tattoo parlors near USMC bases today, tattoos that feature the devil dog have been a staple among military customers. Sometimes they also add an anchor, globe, or eagle, drawing from the rich history of symbolism that the Marine’s have accrued over time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you have tattoos in the USMC?

Yes, as long as they adhere to USMC policy. In broad terms, tattoos must not appear on the face, head, neck and hands, with the exception of one ring-like tattoo.

What tattoos are not allowed in the USMC?

In general, tattoos that are “drug-related, gang-related, extremist, obscene or indecent, sexist, or racist” are not allowed.

What is the Marine Corps bulldog name?

Although the first bulldog’s name was Jiggs, and the names have changed during the Corp’s history, today’s mascot is known as Chesty.

March 5, 2023