The military is one of the organizations that have long-standing, strange and interesting traditions. Thanks to the media and stories passed by members of the military themselves, the civilians had the chance to satisfy their curiosity about such traditions. Perhaps, one of the most puzzling military traditions is the challenge coins awarding, acceptance, and usage.
Challenge coins, also referred to as military coins, are awarded by a military man’s superior or someone who has higher rank than him. Some hold a ceremony solely for the awarding of coins; others simply pass them via handshake. Military coins are awarded for various reasons; these reasons are somewhat different from the original usage of such coins. However, there are many variations regarding the original usage of military coins. Below are the most well-known first accounts of its usage.
The Detained American Soldier in World War I
Among the stories of military coins’ origins, this one is the most popular. The Europe-based war between the Allied Forces (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States of America) and the Central Powers (Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Austria-Hungary) was one of the bloodiest and most destructive in the history of mankind. Captors were merciless when it comes to captured soldiers. This scenario was presented as the setting of the supposed origin of challenge coins.
The US sent military men to Europe. These men also included affluent civilians; some of which were Harvard and Yale students. These volunteers formed part of the new squadrons. An affluent squadron lieutenant asked for solid bronze-struck medallions and gave these to his men. One of his men, a pilot, was said to have kept the medallion inside a pouch worn around his neck.
The young pilot’s aircraft was soon caught by ground fire. At that time, he was flying behind enemy lines. He had no choice but to land there. Later on, a German patrol held him as captive.The detained pilot’s items proving his membership to the US military were seized. This was done to prevent him from running off. However, the Germans didn’t think that the pilot’s pouch contained a medallion so they just left it there.
When the night came, the Germans’ camp was attacked. The pilot took it as a chance and fled. He donned civilian clothes to avoid German patrols while walking aimlessly on his way to a French post.However, he wasn’t recognized by the French soldiers right away because of his strange accent. He was even mistaken as a German spy and was later on sentenced to death.
The American pilot presented his medallion to his supposed executioners; one of which acknowledged the medallion as a proof of his membership to an American squadron.After that, the pilot was given wine instead of being executed. He was later on sent back to his squadron. Because of what happened to him, higher ranking officials in the US military ordered more medallions and tasked each military men to keep one’s medallion always.
The Office of Strategic Service Personnel’s Bona Fides
Another story on the origin of challenge coins was set on World War II. Bona fides were local coins in Nazi-ruled France at that time. Just like in the first story, this one served to prove one’s identity. It was used to avoid spies from entering their secret meetings.
Buffalo Bill’s Coins
Colonel William Quinn, known as Buffalo Bill, was deemed as one of the first givers of military coins. He awarded the coins to his men, the members of the 17th Infantry Regiment, who fought in the Korean War. An image of a buffalo was minted on the obverse side of the coin while the Regiment’s symbol was placed on the reverse side.
The Coins of the Ancient Romans
The ancient Roman soldiers were one of the first warriors who received payment for their services. Those who fought well were given a specially minted coin. Instead of spending it to wine and women, some of the soldiers kept their coins.
These are just few stories regarding the challenge coins’ origins. Some stories include the Philippine guerillas among others. Nowadays, these coins are awarded and used for various reasons.
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