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Still fond of his tattoos after over 60 years
Ripons former police chief Red Nutt displays his first tattoo on his left arm of a rose the only one of five that has partially held its color over the past 50 to 60 years. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Ripon’s Red Nutt sports a wing-flapping Eagle flying across his broad chest, but he rarely is seen without a shirt in public.

It was some 60 years ago that Ripon’s longtime police chief and former Mayor Red Nutt got his first tattoo of five as a 17-year-old Navy fireman’s apprentice while aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS 12) in Okinawa.

Nutt’s most coveted artwork is the tattoo he had etched across his 54-inch chest of an American Eagle with its wings outstretched from shoulder to shoulder.  He said when he would run the eagle’s wings would flap. Now they just hang somewhat limp, he laughed.

“If I had gone on a fourth cruise, I would probably have had the back of the eagle put across my back,” he added. 

Nutt, who has had two heart surgeries, said when the surgeons were telling him they had to cut open his chest, he insisted they put the eagle back together without any misalignment when they sewed him up.  Those heart attacks were 15 years apart, he noted.

“My wife has never seen me without tattoos and I didn’t want a lopsided Eagle tattoo on my chest,” he said.

“In the old days – like 1954 – it seemed that every sailor had a rose tattoo” like the initial one he had placed on his upper left arm while on his first cruise to the Far East.  It was the only one of his collection not using more modern needle techniques and was the artwork of an islander using tiny wooden bamboo sticks.  He noted it was a “pretty primitive” effort on the part of the native.

On each of his cruises he had another tattoo added to his body or arms after facing his mother in their hometown of Selma who was upset when he first went home on leave with “the rose.”  It was the rose that has maintained much of its color while the others faded after 20 to 25 years, he said.

“Mom didn’t care for it,” he remembered.  She said, “How stupid of you to put those things on your body.  After the second one she didn’t question it any longer.  I was pretty much on my own at 16.”

The second tattoo he would add was a Navy anchor that politically included “Mom and Dad” written across the anchor high on his right arm done in Japan.  Nutt admitted the needles hurt but he was a young sailor and treated the tattoos with alcohol inside and outside the body surfaces.

On the lower right arm he has another rose with a dagger running through the flower with it saying “Hong Kong.”  He had it done simply because his aircraft carrier was berthed in Hong Kong and he wanted to establish a memory.

“These were all done freehand.  You tell the tattooist what you want and he put it on your body where you wanted it – all in color,” he quipped. 

“I think he used paint, because the yellow in the rose would swell up a little when I got out in the sunlight, but it stopped reacting to the sun after many years,” he said. 

On Nutt’s left forearm is a tattoo of a skull and a snake with his name “Red” across the bottom.  It was a product of Kobe, Japan. It was not a military base, he recalled, but a seaport where merchant marines ships and cargo vessels could tie up.

When the sailors walked off the ship and down the gang plank, they were immediately in town.

The last tattoo emblazoned the American Eagle across his chest.  The plan was to spread the tattoo creation over a couple weeks with the color work being secondary.  However, since he was shipping out to head for home, it had to be done all at once, he said.  In an effort to sooth the pain it took some 15 beers, he chuckled.

Nutt said when he got out of the service after nearly four years; he was embarrassed by his tattoos when looking for a job.  In an effort to hide them he wore long sleeve shirts.  “If I had to do it again as a kid, I probably would.  But, today, I’d probably think about it first.”

He added that what people don’t think about in today’s world is realizing what a tattoo is going to look like in 25 years in the future. 

His first job out of the Navy was installing lathing and roofing with his dad and uncle.  Installing water wells and digging gravel pits as well as installing pumps later kept money in his pocket.  Nutt married his wife Bonnie when she was 16 and he was 21, working at Gallo Winery in Clovis for 12 years and reaching the position of pressure foreman followed by a short stint with the Armstrong Rubber Co. in Hanford.

He was never out of work, even though he was juggling numerous part-time jobs to keep food on the table.  Red and Bonnie also worked in the fields picking cotton and cutting grapes until they moved back to Modesto to find a better home for their growing family and a better job.

Nutt first signed onto the Ripon Police Department as a reserve after working as a private watchman in Modesto.  He said Chief Harvey Douma soon elevated him to a full-time officer status and he didn’t attend the police academy for a year and a half, relying on his experience and on-the-job training.

209 staff reporter