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History of the challenge coin

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 20053485017
Story by Cpl. Wil Acosta

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (March 4, 2005) -- Military Unit Coins. Throughout the Corps, one can find these medal artifacts displayed proudly by Marines at their desks and in their offices. Some are simple and colorless. Others are ornate, filled with intricate designs and etchings. All of them have a story behind them.

The following story, which dates the history of military coins back to the 1st World War, was passed on throughout the network of senior enlisted Marines via email.

During World War I, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy young men who left colleges such as Yale and Harvard in order to enlist in the military.

In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered solid bronze medallions embossed with the squadron emblem for every member of his squadron. He carried his medallion in a small leather sack about his neck.

Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the lietetenant's aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire during a mission. He was forced to land behind enemy lines where he was captured by a German patrol.

In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck.

He was eventually taken to a small French town near the front lines where he managed to escape during a night bombardment. During the attack, he donned civilian clothes and fled without personal identification.

After escaping, the brave pilot succeeded in avoiding German patrols until he reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man's land and stumbled into a French outpost.

Unfortunately, the French in this sector had been plagued by German saboteurs, who sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him.

Just in time, the American remembered his leather pouch containing the bronze medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners. When the French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion, they gave the pilot enough time to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him, they gave him a bottle of wine.

Eventually the pilot made it back to his squadron, where it became a tradition to ensure all members carried their medallion or coin at all times.

This was accomplished through a challenge. A service member would ask to see the coin. If the challenger could not produce his coin, he was required to purchase a drink of choice for the member who had challenged him.

If the challenged member produced his coin, then the challenging member was required to pay for the drink.

This tradition continued through the war and for many years after while surviving members of the squadron were still alive.

Today, military service members often trade these coins while deployed. In some cases a coin can be earned meritoriously for a job well done.

Regardless of how they are required, the history of the challenge coin remains a part of military tradition, and Marines will continue to display them proudly for years to come.

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