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A Token to Remember: The Tradition of Military Challenge Coins

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The military has over 1.3 million active-duty troops. And many of them commemorate their service with something known as challenge coins.

While no one knows for sure how military challenge coins originated, there are a few myths floating around. Several people swear by certain stories as the real deal, so we’ll examine each of them throughout this article.

Read on to find out some of the ways a military challenge coin could have originated, and why it is so special to troops today.

What Are Military Challenge Coins?

A military challenge coin can have any symbol on it. Most often, the symbol it bears has significance to those who served in a particular unit or platoon. It may also have the number of the platoon engraved.

Non-military people also sometimes carry and exchange challenge coins. These coins can be given to commemorate a big life event, such as the birth of a child or a graduation. Some also give them as gifts at weddings.

Challenge coins can also commemorate work done for a company and anything else people want to celebrate.

The coins are typically larger than currency coins and are similar in size to the medals you might receive in duty or after running a marathon or race.

You can read more now about some of the options, should you be interested in purchasing one for your loved one.

Romans and Challenge Coins

While no one knows for sure, there is some evidence that Roman soldiers carried around items similar to challenge coins. These small coins commemorated their squadron or the battles they had fought in.

The World War I Theory

There is one pervasive theory that the first military challenge coins came about during World War I.

At the outbreak of the war, many young men signed up seeking adventure and feeling the call to “protect their homeland.” Most didn’t know the horrors that would be waiting for them once they arrived at battle.

Excited by the prospect of becoming a soldier, some wealthier individuals minted challenge coins as souvenirs for the other men serving with them.

In this story, it is unknown where the young soldier originated, but the star of the story was shot down whilst flying over Germany. The Germans arrested him, taking everything he had except for a string around his neck, which contained the challenge coin he had previously been issued.

The young soldier escaped the clutches of the Germans and made his way to the French. The French, however, did not believe him to be an ally. They were convinced he was a spy and condemned the solider to death.

But, as luck would have it, one of the French soldiers recognized the challenge coin the soldier was carrying with him. He knew only one of his allies would be carrying it, thus he stopped the execution.

The young soldier was finally sent back to his men, where they welcomed him warmly.

The German Beer Hall Origins

Another challenge coin myth takes place in the German beer halls, just after World War II.

World War II devastated Europe, and American troops were stationed in Germany to help rebuild the country, as well as those surrounding it.

The Americans who were stationed there at the time played a game with one another. If they were in a beer hall, one had to yell that they were having a pfenning check. At the time, a pfenning was the smallest coin in German currency.

If someone didn’t have a pfenning on him, he would be responsible for paying for the round of beer. Having a pfenning on you at all times made sure you were never stuck with the tab!

As time went on, the pfenning checks somehow evolved to medallion checks. In this instance, they would ask that everyone place their unit’s medallion on the table. Those who were short the medallion then had to pay for everyone else’s beer.

This is where the name “challenge coin” is said to have originated.

Challenge Coins in Korea

We know that the men of the 17th Infantry Regiment had challenge coins. Minted by Colonel Buffalo Bill Quinn, the coins were made for his men in order to commemorate their service together. One side of the challenge coin depicted a buffalo, whilst the other side had the insignia for the Regiment.

This is the first time that men have been known to wear them around their necks as they would wear pendants. Previously, challenge coins were placed in leather pouches, that were then worn around the wearer’s neck. From Korea onward, those in the military began wearing them around their neck by a string without the added element of the leather pouch.

This meant that the challenge coin was open to the elements, but also meant that others could identify them more easily.

The Accuracy of the History of Military Challenge Coins

As of now, we don’t know when exactly military challenge coins made their debut. They could go as far back as Ancient Rome, or perhaps even further. Or, they could actually be a more modern invention.

What we do know, however, is that they’re created as a memento or souvenir to commemorate time spent together or a big milestone. Nowadays, you can give a challenge coin for just about anything, and will be sure to be treasured for years to come.

Has all of this talk of the military got you interested in some of its perks? Visit our article on some of the biggest and best benefits of joining the military.

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