In the early 1950s, teenage students in Lake County, Indiana, got up from their desks, marched down the halls and lined up at stations. There, fingers were pricked, blood was tested and the teenagers were sent on to the library, where they waited to get a special tattoo. Each one was in the same place on the torso, just under the left arm, and spelled out the blood type of the student.
This experimental program was called Operation Tat-Type. It was administered by the county and the idea was simple: to make it easier to transfuse blood after an atomic bomb. At the age of 16, producer Liza Yeager’s grandmother, who went to school in Lake County, was permanently marked in anticipation of a nuclear catastrophe.
In 1952, the Cold War was in full swing and the government was busy developing civil defense strategies — things ordinary citizens could to do to help protect the homefront. In this case, the thinking was that if Russia attacked, the tattoos would make for quicker transfusions. They called it a “walking blood bank” — no need for cold storage.
It sounds morbid in hindsight, but many kids at the time took it in stride. It was just another manifestation of the concept of survivability. The idea that with enough canned food, shelters, fearlessness (and maybe tattoos) the American people would be able to survive an atomic attack.