The Truth Behind Those Rumors About Mr. Rogers’ Tattoos, Vietnam Sniper Career, And More

Published July 6, 2018
Updated August 31, 2019
Published July 6, 2018
Updated August 31, 2019

The real stories beneath Mr. Rogers' supposed tattoos, his military service, and that time he gave kids the middle finger are even more heartwarming than you'd imagine.

Mr. Rogers' Tattoos

Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty Images

It’s such a good feeling to know that Mr. Rogers was perhaps the most wholesome man on planet Earth.

From 1963 to 2001, the beloved host of television’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood sang simple songs about inclusion, made kids feel loved, and told them how special they were. Along the way, he used his educational series to comfort children about serious topics such as war and divorce while also reassuring them that there’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to bathroom drains.

And because Fred Rogers was, by all accounts, actually as sweet and innocent as his show would have you believe, it makes it all the more jarring to learn that rumors largely fueled by the internet over the last few years have suggested that he was covered with tattoos — and killed people as a military sniper in Vietnam, among other things.

Of course, the rumors about Mr. Roger’s tattoos, military career, and all the rest simply aren’t true.

The Myth Of Mr. Rogers’ Tattoos

Rumors about Mr. Rogers’ tattoos stem from the fact that he famously always wore long-sleeved sweaters on his show. Based on that alone, people started claiming that he did so in order to cover up a number of tattoos.

Now, these rumors about Mr. Rogers’ tattoos are not true — the man had no tattoos. What’s more, the reason he swore those sweaters is just as wholesome as you’d expect: His mother made them by hand. Every cardigan he wore was in honor of his mother.

Rogers’ mother clearly had a huge influence on why he wanted to help children via his show. The gentle TV personality once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

Fittingly, virtually all Rogers ever wanted to do was help people too.

The Rumors Surrounding Mr. Rogers

The oft-repeated story given for Mr. Rogers’ tattoos is that he got them in the military while operating in Vietnam as a badass soldier nothing like the good-natured man we saw on TV.

However, the notion that Rogers served in the military is a complete urban legend. The military has even denied that anyone ever named Fred Rogers served in Vietnam as a sniper for the Marines (which are the common specifics added to the rumor).

And the false rumors don’t stop there. Perhaps the most common of them all, for example, is that Rogers was caught on video giving children the middle finger during his show. And like all the others, this story just isn’t true.

This rumor began with the video above that does indeed show Rogers gesturing with his middle fingers as part of a performance of the song “Where Is Thumbkin?” But what those who believe the rumor fail to realize is that the finger gesturing that accompanies the song simply goes through every finger on the hand, including the middle one.

The song is meant to teach young children the importance of all of the fingers on the hand in a fun way. In this case, sticking up one’s middle fingers has nothing to do with the crude gesture some might think.

In fact, many online videos that feature “Where Is Thumbkin” use the same middle finger gestures used by Rogers.

Similarly, there’s another rumor about Rogers teaching kids the two-fingered sign for devil horns (see above). Those who believe this untrue rumor miss the fact that Rogers was actually showing children how to make the sign for “I love you” in American sign language — another appropriately heartwarming story behind an ugly rumor.

The Truth About Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers sings ‘It’s Such a Good Feeling’ on his show.

The untrue rumors about Mr. Rogers’ tattoos, military service, and so on do not at all fit with the man’s gentle, fatherly personality (which is, of course, a big part of what makes the rumors so intriguing). This is a man who really did dedicate his life to educating and helping children.

Rogers, born March 20, 1928 in Latrobe, Pa., eschewed an Ivy League education to graduate magna cum laude from Florida’s Rollins College with a degree in music. He learned to write music and play the piano, talents that he put to good use in writing more than 200 songs that he’d perform on his show as well as several operas for kids.

Likewise, the worst curse word he’s said to have used was “mercy.” He would say it whenever he felt overwhelmed — like when he saw the stacks of fan mail he received every week. Undeterred, however, Rogers personally responded to every piece of fan mail he received over the course of his 50-year career.

Rogers never smoked, drank, or ate the flesh of animals. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister who always preached inclusion and tolerance by saying “God loves you just the way you are.”

He even convinced Congress to increase funding for public television from $9 million to $22 million in 1969 thanks to a heartwarming speech in the Capitol (see above).

It seemed there was nothing Rogers couldn’t do, except of course cheat death. Sadly, Rogers died on Feb. 27, 2003 of stomach cancer in Pittsburgh.

A few months before his death, when he clearly knew his end was near, Rogers recorded a nearly final message (above) for his adult fans who’d watched his show every day:

“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”

There’s no way that Mr. Rogers was a deadly sniper covered in military tattoos. It’s just not possible.

After this look at the myth of Mr. Rogers’ tattoos, discover the full story of Bob Ross, the man behind the happy little trees. Then, read up on Theodor Geisel, the complicated man we all know as Dr. Seuss.

William DeLong
William DeLong is a freelance wordsmith. He thanks you for reading his content.