Military coins have been around for a very long time. No one is really sure where they came from. What is true is that these coins have become more and more popular.
TV shows, movies, and even books have made these coins popular. Jon Favreau, the man who directs the Iron Man films, was known for handing out challenge coins to members of the military who assisted in making their film. TV shows like JAG have featured challenge coins once or twice on their show.
The popularity of these coins stems from the certain mystique that they have, much like other military traditions. Military coins have become a symbol for the camaraderie of those included in the military. For those curious and have no clue, below is a short breakdown of the past and present of these challenge coins.
The different origin stories
They may have been around for a long time, but no one is entirely sure where these coins actually come from. There are several stories and no one is absolutely clear on which of them is actually right.
One of the stories revolves around a downed American pilot. This man carried with him a medallion around his neck. He received this medallion from his lieutenant who came from a rich background. Back then some of the men who enlisted for World War I were young undergraduates from universities like Yale or Harvard.
The pilot was captured and deprived of his belongings. He escaped his prison and was eventually met by the French. He presented his medallion as proof that he was a friendly soldier. The French recognized his medallion. This is the oldest story that refers to the origin of military coins.
Another story deals with spies during World War II. Spies behind enemy lines would carry with them old French coins. These coins served as bona fides. This basically meant that a spy had to bring their coin to the meeting in order to prove to the others that they weren’t a spy.
The other story traces its roots to the Vietnam War. Soldiers had this unique habit of keeping live ammunition with them at all times. They would then slam it on the table to challenge one of their peers. If the challenged failed to slam a bullet, he would then be obligated to buy that person a round of drinks. This practice was banned and instead of bullets, soldiers carried coins.
Trend setting Presidents
Presidents of the United States are now known for handing out challenge coins to random servicemen that they encounter as well as visiting dignitaries. This tradition started with Bill Clinton whose portrait in the White House prominently features his own collection of challenge coins in the background.
George W. Bush is famous for giving out his presidential coins to people who served in Iraq. President Barack Obama on the other hand is known for having placed challenge coins to victims of the Forth Hood shooting back in 2009.
These presidential coins are some of the rarest that a person could ever hope to get their hands on.
The copycats of military coins
The tradition of having challenge coins is no longer limited to the military or the branches of the governments. There are so many organizations out there that now have their own set of challenge coins. Each of these organizations issue coins to their members in order to make their members feel special or that they belong to the group. It’s also given out as a reward for special services rendered or going above and beyond the call of duty.
NASCAR, Eagle Scouts, NFL players, and other organizations have begun to issue challenge coins as well. Granted, not all of them follow the tradition that these coins can be used to obligate someone to buy them a round of drinks, especially the Eagle Scouts, but the symbolic spirit of military coins is still there.Continue reading