What is a Challenge Coin?

- May 3, 2019
What is a Challenge Coin?

Do you know what a challenge coin is? Do you know what they stand for? If not, you have come to the right place. Here, you will be able to explore all the myths and legends of the challenge coin.

What is a Challenge Coin?

Are you now asking, “What is a challenge coin?”? Challenge coins are one of the fascinating traditions of the military. With their origins shrouded in mystery, they have become a prized possession of soldiers throughout history.

So what is a challenge coin exactly? It is a coin-sized medallion presented to a soldier to signify his membership in their chosen branch of the military.

These coins are also presented to a soldier to commemorate special services or promotions. The initial purpose of these coins was a show of unity and to inspire pride in the enlisted personnel.
In the beginning, they were stamped on the back of actual coins, but as the years progressed, they became an entity unto themselves. Each branch of the military has their own special challenge coins, and will often issue unique coins for outstanding services or having survived a particularly difficult battle.

What is the History of the Challenge Coins?

This is where the challenge coin weaves it’s story into the tapestry of obscurity. The first issued coins were non-sanctioned, therefore, the official first issuance is lost to us amid a plethora of stories passed down for generations.

The first mention of similar coins date back to the Roman empire, but the most modern story originates from WWI.

The oldest story states that an Army Air Corps lieutenant had coins created for his entire unit. Shortly thereafter, he was shot down and captured by German forces. They stripped him of all his possessions including any ID he was carrying with the exception of a leather pouch he wore around his neck. This was where he wore his unit’s challenge coin.

Using a bombing attack to cover his escape, he eventually came to a French village where he was mistaken for a German soldier. Unable to produce any identification, he presented his coin. Fortunately, one of the men recognized it and the lieutenant was saved. Upon returning to his unit, he told his tale, and it inspired the tradition of keeping the coins handy.

The Challenge Behind the Challenge Coin.

It is no secret that deployed service personnel have to blow off steam the best way they can. It is this creativity during the Vietnam war that brought about challenge coins, and a bit of peace of mind.
The tradition begins with soldiers keeping a bullet or piece of shrapnel from a battle they survived. The bullets were then thrown down on a bar as a challenge to all present to see who had the biggest memento and story. The loser would have to buy a round for all involved.

As in all competitions of this nature, combining ammunition and alcohol, the treasures eventually started getting bigger and considerably more dangerous. Soldiers began carrying everything up to anti-aircraft rounds and attracting attention from the administration.

In the interest of ending the tradition of slamming live ammo on the bars, the special forces began issuing the challenge coins before a catastrophe occurred.

What are Challenge Coins Used for Today?

What are challenge coins symbolic of today? Well, they are still used in the time-honored tradition of buying a round of drinks. The soldier initiating the challenge will call for a coin check, holding up their own coin. Anyone found to not have their coin on-hand buys the round, but if everyone produces their coins, the person who issued the challenge better have more coins than just their challenge coin, they are buying.

Presidents are now having these coins made to commemorate their term in office. At times, they will present these coins to a soldier who has shown particular bravery, loyalty, or service to the United States.

It can be assumed that any uniformed soldier you see is carrying his coin closely and proudly. Many retirees do as well.

The Secret Challenge Coin Handshake

Perhaps the most coveted challenge coin is the one presented in secrecy, not to be flaunted or made a spectacle of. This coin is, no matter how many onlookers, presented very privately.
President George W. Bush was known to pass a coin to a wounded soldier returning home. Done in plain sight, the only ones who know that the deed was actually done are the giver and the receiver.
These days, challenge coins are not exclusively a military symbol. Law enforcement and firefighters use them as a treasured symbol of bravery and commemoration.

Challenge Coins are a Challenge Worthy of Pursuit

There are many collectors of these coins these days. Make no mistake, each coin struck tells a tale. They tell tales of bravery, surviving in the face of danger, and serving the country and community without thought of personal injury. Challenge coins inspire pride of self and country and aid in a round or two as well. Collectors appreciate these mementos and all they stand for.
The symbolism is tangible in each one of these wonderful, mystical coins.