Tattoos are becoming an expression of patriotism.

Tom Moore, an artist at Shaw's Tattoo Studio, said demand for flags, eagles and other patriotic images is up 40 percent. Business reportedly is booming at tattoo parlors across the nation, particularly those near military installations."It doesn't make people patriotic," Moore said. "It proves they are."

Most popular these days are tattoos showing an eagle surrounded by the words, "Mess with the best, die like the rest!."

Rising interest in military tattoos has gone hand in hand with the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East, said "Uncle Bob" Atkinson, owner of Artistic Design Tattoo Studio.

"It makes me feel proud that someone is actually caring," he said. "I knew people who lost their lives in Vietnam and nobody gave a damn."

Atkinson said two Air Force servicemen who returned to Houston last week from active duty in Turkey made his tattoo studio one of their first stops.

When they left, one man sported a tattoo of an eagle carrying an American flag, while the other had the words "Death Before Dishonor" superimposed on an American flag with two rifles.

"There's Vietnam vets who are still having them done. They're showing their colors," said Atkinson, who said he has tattooed 150 men and 24 women with patriotic designs since Operation Desert Storm began.