When you first meet someone, you’re most likely looking at their face — their eyes, their smile, even their nose.

But how often do you look at someone’s hands? If you pay attention to them, hands can give you a raw glimpse into someone’s past.

These photos of the hands of seven American servicemen are a stark portrait of what it’s like to sacrifice for one’s country.

  1. Matthew Goddard, United States Marine Corps, 2010-2014

    Image Credit: Matthew Goddard Image Credit: Matthew Goddard

    “Both my grandfathers served in in the military in World War II. My grandpa Goddard was the first infantry into Germany. So, I guess it came natural to honor the ones who went before me and to help play a small role in defending this great country of ours.

    When I think of the word ‘dedication’ I also think of hard work. With that being said, I gave the Marine Corps 100 percent of my mind and body. I was a combat engineer and deployed to Afghanistan to clear roads of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) getting down on my hands and knees to locate and destroy explosives — let me be the first to inform you, that dirt is not soft.

    Also, I had to fortify outposts and bases with hundreds of feet of razor wire. No matter what gloves you wore, they were destroyed. And of course, utilizing heavy machine guns and weapons in general took a great toll on my hands.”

  2. Grant Gates, United States Marine Corps, 2009-2015

    Image Credit: Grant Gates Image Credit: Grant Gates

    “I served because I’ve always wanted to serve. My father and his father all away back to the Civil War served. I felt I could protect my family and friends better than anyone else, so I wanted it to be me protecting them. What it comes down to is this: I wanted to fight, not sit on the sidelines, while day in and day out Marines were being killed left and right in Afghanistan.

    Physically, my ring finger is now deformed (broken) from a fellow marine pinning a .50 cal machine gun on it, multiple scars on my knuckles and a nice sort of red tint to them that forever will be there from the different advanced schools I attended, a scar on top of my left hand from a hot 7.62 cartridge, and a roughness to my hands that won’t go away.

    My hands used to shake when adrenaline would fly through my body — now they are still. When I sleep, my hands rest on my chest fingers interlocked; my hands are always ready.”

  3. Rodney Hilderbrandt, United States Marine Corps, 2009-2013

    Image Credit: Rodney Hilderbrandt Image Credit: Rodney Hilderbrandt

    “I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines anymore, I wanted to be there in it all, making a difference. My hands were made stronger because of my service.”

  4. Zach Ross, United States Army, 2011-2016

    Image Credit: Zach Ross Image Credit: Zach Ross

    “I served because I wanted to give back to my country and I wanted to travel and continue my education.

    I married my wife and had my first child while in the Army so the most significant change to my hands is the symbol that represents my love and passion for my family, my wedding ring.”

  5. Justin Sanders, United States Marine Corps, 2010-2015

    Image Credit: Justin Sanders Image Credit: Justin Sanders

    “I served in the U.S. Marine Corps because I wanted to serve my country. My finger was broken during training and I’m having another surgery next month to take out the metal plate.”

  6. Richard Griffin, United States Army, 1982-1984; North Carolina Army National Guard, 1988-1991

    Image Credit: Richard Griffin Image Credit: Richard Griffin

    “I joined the Army straight out of high school in 1982 during the Cold War. I come from a long tradition of military service. My dad is a WWII veteran. I was not a strong student and wasn’t certain about college. So instead, I became a 19 Delta Cavalry Scout border guard on the East German border.

    The military takes its toll on a body —your back, feet and hands. Your hands are always black and chapped and aching from the cold, the mud, the grease and mechanical work. I broke my wrist when I slipped on the deck of a tank in the snow.

    I never spent much time thinking about what my hands mean to me, but as you grow older, everything means more than when you were young and invincible  — including your hands.”

  7. Chris Riese, United States Marine Corps, 2009-2013

    Image Credit: Chris Riese Image Credit: Chris Riese

    “I served because I wanted a fresh start in life. My hands ache and pop, are full of lots of scars from disassemble/assemble drills for machine gunners.”

So the next time you shake a veteran’s hand, take a look – you might catch a peek into their years of service.

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