A Brief History of Custom Military Coins
Challenge coins are sources of pride for many veteran and current military service members. Aside from their obvious use—to issue a challenge to another member of the same troop or unit—custom military coins are also used to honor members of the military for excellent performance or achievement in the line of duty.
We’re sure that not everyone knows the origin of military challenge coins, and that is okay. After all, there are no confirmed records of when and where the term was coined (see what we did there?). However, there have been attempts to trace the origin of the tradition attached to this particular medallion, and we’re listing them down right here.
Awarding Coins in Ancient Rome
Before military coins became famous tools to issue challenges, they were used to honor outstanding soldiers in the Roman Empire. History experts claim that a Roman soldier received an extra coin with his usual pay whenever he performed his duty well for the day. This coin was minted differently, often with a special mark of the unit it came from. Because of this, most soldiers opted to keep the coin as a sort of medal or keepsake, instead of spending it.
Military Coin Saves the Day
Other records say that the first custom military coins made their appearance during World War I. Stories had it that a rich officer ordered bronze medallions with his unit’s insignia and gave them out to his men. Little did he know that this would end up saving one of his men’s lives.
Shortly after he received his coin, a member of this platoon was captured by the enemy after his plane was shot down over Germany. The Germans took all of his possessions except for a small leather pouch the soldier wore around his neck. Luckily, this pouch contained his military coin.
When the soldier managed to escape the German prison, he immediately made his way to France. However, because he did not have any identification with him, the French thought he was a spy and made preparations to execute him. There was no way to prove his identity except to show his medallion to his captors. Fortunately, one of the French soldiers in the group recognized the insignia on the coin. The story ends on a happy note, with the pilot saved from execution and sent back to his unit.
Coin Challenges after the World War II
Records may differ on where custom military coins first appeared, but most agree that early challenges were started by American soldiers stationed in Germany, sometime after the Second World War. Notoriously called “pfennig checks,” named after the lowest coin denomination in Germany, American soldiers routinely checked each other to see if everyone had one with them all the time. If a soldier was found with none, he had to buy a round of beers for everyone present.
The tradition then evolved from checking pfennigs to looking for military medallions, where anyone can challenge other members of his unit by slamming his coin down the table or bar. If any member of the same unit did not have his coin with him, he had to pay for a beer of the challenger and all those who had their coin. But if everyone else had their medallion, the challenger shouldered the bill for the next round of drinks.
Replacing Bullets with Coins
Because of the popularity of military challenge coins, a lot of army units started customizing their own medallions. For instance, Special Forces Groups during the Vietnam War took to carrying simple coins with their unit’s insignia stamped on it.
Prior to that, soldiers carried around an unused bullet with them, both as a source of pride (bullets were then given as rewards for surviving a mission) and to prove their manliness to other members of their unit. Problems started when soldiers started to use these bullets to issue challenges against each other in bars. To avoid a deadly accident caused by slamming down live ammunition down a hard surface, the Army issued an ordinance banning the use of bullets for challenges. Not wanting to stop a tradition, though, they replaced the bullets with a limited edition of specially minted Special Forces coins.
Military Coins Today
While medallions are rarely used to prove one’s identity in a war these days, we still recognize the importance of this item, not just to our veterans, but to their younger counterparts as well. Military coins are a source of pride and a proof of brotherhood, and we at Challenge Coins 4 Less honor this tradition more than ever. Because of this, we make sure that we provide nothing but the best services for all customized needs.
A colorful history deserves all the honor it can get, and that is exactly what we aim to do through our custom military coins.
At challengecoins4less, we are providing custom military coins with good quality material and various designs. For more contact to us.