As Americans, we’re proud of our service members. We honor their sacrifice in respectful — and sometimes unusual — ways.
Our government awards medals and ranks to outstanding members of our armed services. They also issue challenge coins.
There’s over 10,000 estimated in circulation today. But what do they represent and how can you get one?
Let’s look at the history of challenge coins and learn more about this interesting military tradition.
Challenge coins live up to their name, meaning they often look like coins. They’re not really legal tender but most are small, round, and made of metal.
Some are elaborate and intricately decorated. Others are plainer but might represent something serious and historical.
No matter what, you’re sure to recognize a challenge coin when you see it!
The history of these small tokens stretches back to Roman times. Legionnaires fighting for Emperor Maximus were given pressed coins as a reward for their service.
That’s one origin story for these mementos. But it’s not the only one.
Although Romans were among the first people to stamp coins, they might not be the originators of these tokens. There’s another story that only stretches back to WWI.
In that story, an officer had coins stamped for all of the men in his flying squadron. When one officer was shot down behind enemy lines, his coin saved his life.
The officer escaped the Germans and ran to France. The French at first thought he was a spy, but he identified himself as an American with his coin.
This story lingers as the most authentic. There’s one more that many think is the true origin of the challenge coin.
Another story tells of a bar in Vietnam during the war. To get in, soldiers had to produce bullets to prove they had been fighting.
Eventually that expanded into rockets, grenades, and other elaborate items. Finally, it was settled that coins with symbols and insignia on them would be proof enough.
These days, official challenge coins still aren’t easy to get. You can buy them online but earning them is another matter.
Sometimes, branches of the government not affiliated with the military give them out. For example, the National Park Service gave a few out to outstanding volunteers.
If you don’t have a chance to earn one, you can design a challenge coin yourself. Make one for friends, family, and coworkers to commemorate special events.
Wouldn’t it be fun to have your own challenge coin if anyone ever calls for a “coin check”? Seeing military members with their own makes you recognize all that they’ve done to earn it.
While the history of challenge coins isn’t clear, you can’t deny that it’s fascinating. Seems like there’s more than one side to this coin’s story!
If you liked learning about our military history, find more military stories under our news tab!
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