Yesterday, I sat in a Bob Evans in Dublin, Ohio with my three year old. About halfway through our meal an older gentleman sat down across from us. He had no military hat on or any other obvious sign that he was a Veteran. However, every ounce of me knows he was. My guess is that he was a World War II Veteran. I stole glances at him in between stopping apple juice from spilling, coloring on a kid’s menu and bribing my daughter that if she ate two more bites of pancakes she could have a piece of gum in the car.

I wanted so badly to go up to him and say, “You’re a World War II Veteran, aren’t you?” He had kind eyes, and I tried to picture him as a young man in his 20s, in uniform, serving our country. He nodded and smiled at me as we left, like he knew I wanted to speak with him. Had my little crumb cruncher not been yanking on my arm, I would have stopped, introduced myself and confirmed that he was among the Greatest Generation’s warriors.

There is something about those who have worn the uniform. My husband and I can spot Veterans or people currently in the military a mile away. OK, maybe not a full mile, but from across a room at least.

How can this be? What it is about people who have served?  Is it the way they carry themselves? The way their hair is cut? The look in their eyes? I cannot quite put my finger on it. When we do get the chance to meet people we suspect are Veterans, or overhear something they are saying to someone else, we are usually correct- they did serve.

I can’t think of another group or occupation where you can do this. I have never heard of nurses seeing a woman at Wal-Mart and saying to themselves, “Oh, yes, she must have been a nurse”.

What is it that you do, say, or act like that others just know you are a Veteran or are in the military? Do you notice others in this way, or am I crazy? (OK, don’t answer that question).

Claudia Bartow served in the Army National Guard for nine years and the Air National Guard for one year. She runs the website, Your Military Story. Claudia is a middle school Social Studies teacher and heavily involved in local Veterans’ organizations.

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Published on Apr. 5, 2012

Estimated reading time is 2.1 min.

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17 Comments

  1. Amy April 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Nobody knows I am a veteran unless I self identify. Women vets need to speak up about their service. There are too many women who have served sitting right next to you on the job, in church and at the supermarket that you would never guess are veterans. All desire recognition and thanks for their service.

  2. Kay April 17, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    I disagree. I’m a female, and I spent 26 years in the Air Force -flying in a Special Operations unit. No one ever thinks I am a veteran and that I spent my entire adult life in the military. Maybe having a Top Secret clearance for all that time keeps me ‘incognito’. I’m very proud of my service, but I think it’s different for women who served. When I go to the VA, the nurses still ask “whereis your husband – is he the veteran?” No, I am the veteran! My point is: don’t always assume. The military is very diverse – men serve – women serve. Some folks only serve a few years….some serve for decades. Each branch of service is different, with different experiences. Each war or conlict is different also. Experiences are different for each servicemember, so I think your article is a generalization that is not always true. Nice sentiment, though.

  3. karl Kirchhardt April 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    I am a OIF combat infantryman and its the way we carry ourselves (pride and toughness), our movements( standing straight and tall, look you in the eyes when we speak) the way we enter a room(confident, take our hat off as we enter, scan the room), our look(usually its the hi fade infantry rug I call a haircut that sets me apart) probbaly the biggest part is the eyes(the stare, the pain, the compassion and the turmoil we all know). I still serve in the National Guard and love it! God bless this country and all our vets! HOOAH! FOLLOW ME

  4. Duncan F April 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I’m a USAF vet. 1966 – 1970 SAC. When I first got out of the service and decided to go back to school, a Community College. The first day on campus I went to the small cafeteria for lunch. As I was standing looking out at the tables for somewhere to sit I noticed I would get either get no look back or a look as though I had baby blood covering me until I saw two guys that had the same look as I did, tall, short hair and few friends. I naturally rotated their way took a seat and made friends immediately with an ex Army WO and ex Navy man. We hit it off like long lost friends and were fairly joined at the hips from then until I moved across the state 6 months later. That was 42 years ago and we still stay in touch.

    The easiest way to tell a vet. Look around when the flag is raised or the National Anthem is played..They’re the ones with the hand on their heart and tear in their eye and 2 x 4, straight, rigid back bone!

  5. EFT4Me April 12, 2012 at 12:39 am

    Thank You Claudia, for your story. I wish You had a chance to talk to the Vet in the restaurant. I agree 100% with you, as for being able to spot a Veteran. As some have mentioned there’s a way they carry themselves. Some might say ‘carriage’ or a ‘military bearing’. Or you can see the pride in the way they carry themselves through life’s situations. There’s is a dignity, a strong sense of ‘duty’ or responsibility. As well as compassion. Usually if there is a problem, an accident whatever. More often than not, it’s a Veteran that will step up. We often rise up to a challenge even when we no longer are required to do so. They quietly do what they can to help a situation or to even offer kindness to a stranger.
    Then there are those who sadly, have paid the ultimate price. Not just those with the obvious missing limbs. You can often see it in the haunted eyes. The widows to the soul. They might not have physical challenges, it’s often a tormented soul. That’s why one must be cautious with any probing questions. For some, what they may have seen or done in the line of duty, weighs heavily on their very being. They might also have survivors guilt. Maybe lost a buddy, a best friend or brother. Sometimes bearing witness themselves to this horrific tragedy & feel it should have been them. Of course this is UN-realistic but it happens plenty.
    I believe we owe a dept, at the very least~ respect & gratitude to anyone that wears the uniform. I know it doesn’t hurt to buy them a cup of coffee in an airport. If they are behind me in line, I just tell the cashier to put it on my tab. There are other things we can do. It’s up to the individual. Small acts of kindness, that’s all it takes.

  6. Mariana Grohowski April 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I can’t spot a veteran. I’m a civilian with a sincere interest in advocating for student veterans on my campus and in my classroom, but I can’t spot ’em. In fact, I often have hunches but if they aren’t willing to share their service experience with me I am not allowed to ask.

  7. Jesse E* April 9, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Gomez I know the feeling…………Welcome home!

  8. victor neu April 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I read your comments and I am moved . I am a Vietnam vet, and between all the years active and Air National Guard, I am grateful to have met and served with the best from all branches for over forty one years. Yes, I can spot a fellow vet by little things and actions they do. Veterans still open doors for the ladies, square the corners on sidewalks, and allow idiots to be idiots. The main characteristic is confidence, and the ability to deal with previously mentioned idiots when necessary. If only some of our so-called leaders had one quarter the qualities we have, this country would be in a much better place. We’re working on it. Thank you, Claudia, and bless you and your family. Msgt. Victor Neu, Jr Retired USAF

  9. Kenneth V> Rice April 6, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Thanks Claudia. I am 30 year vet, and still love my country. Thanks again

  10. Marty McG April 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    I believe folks who are veterans, who have served, can often spot another veteran. Right now, I’m a Service Officer with a new small group and we’re recruiting Marines, current, veteran, families and friends…I frequently will ask a stranger if they’re a Marine, whether I think they’re Marine or not…I don’t often get told they’re not a vet…and I’m getting better at spotting the women vets as well…I think it’s carriage and often haircuts with the guys. With the gals, it’s usually carriage and confidence! I enjoy accosting strange men and asking them if they’re Marines, it’s just fun to begin with and I have some great conversations with a great many veterans, have helped several. Semper Fi! (And I’m a WAVE, 59-63!)

    • Claudia April 9, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      I love how you “accost” the men! Thank you for serving as a WAVE. My mom was one as well. Thank you also for what you do as a veterans service officer. My husband is the director for our county’s Veterans Service Office. You people do fantastic work helping those who served or are serving.

  11. Pamela Blair April 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Claudia, I absolutely agree with you! There is something about our WWII veterans that can’t be described, yet is profoundly moving. This group of veterans – the Greatest Generation – has always been my favorite. The way they served without question, their pride, their magnificent contribution and sacrifice for our country, and their modesty to this day – is readily apparent every time I meet one of them. Each one of our WWII veterans is a National Treasure and like you, I wish we could let them know how much they mean to us. Your website – yourmilitarystory.com – will help us capture their stories and the place they hold in our history and in our hearts.
    Pamela Blair, Vietnam-era Veteran, U.S. Navy

  12. Tom Brown April 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    To answer your question, It is The Pride, and The Honor that we have in us that shine so brightly.

    The Pride we have because we had the The Honor to serve our Country during Peace and War

  13. thomas gomez April 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    i am a vietnam vet. 90% of the time i cant tell another vet by the pain in his eyes. its funny how we know each other. there is a stare that only combat vets have. a look a way about them.i was at a flea market in Georgia a few years ago. i stopped at a booth that was selling things from the vietnam war. i saw the guy next to me looking at all the stuff. as soon as i looked in to his eyes i saw it. the stare. i ask he buddy what year were you in Nam. he told me. we were with our wives. him and i were talking about Nam. at the end when it was time to move on. i told him welcome home. . back then no one except families would say that. today we say that to each other. i put out my hand to shake his. before we knew it we had our arms around each other crying, we didn’t even know each other. after that i had to go to my car and pull my self together. i never forgot that guy. tom Gomez viet Nam 1968 to 1969. machine gunner.

    • Ray April 9, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Welcome home, I was in rear with gear at Chu Lai 68-69

  14. James P. Hawke April 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Nice story! I agree that one can usually spot a military Vet. I have found this to be a good way to make some new friends.

  15. Robert Dittel April 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    We have a certain something instilled in us. I don’t know if if we were raised with it or we learned it in the military or it could be both. I noticed when 9/11 happened I saw many more volunteer to protect our nation. Those people had something already in them. It could be something God-given. Either way we all have it. As I entered the Gulf War I knew it was possible AI would not come back. We all know that but we still press on with our duties. I learned that when a plane or boat was hijacked in the early nineties that the hijackers would ask for passports. We did not get passports issued to us at that time and I think hijackers knew this. They would kill the people (especially the men) who could not produce a passport. I think they did this because they knew military did not have passports and would do what they could to defend and protect civilians. We are different. We care and we defend.

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