US Military Challenge Coin History
The Challenge Coin Tradition
The history of the US military challenge coins is as varied as these custom coins
Members of the US military have a long honorable tradition of keeping a custom coin usually symbolizing a unit and esprit de corps. With history from battles thousands of miles from home, these custom coins are struck or minted for US military units. These coins each have their own time honored symbols and mottos, embedded in bronze the essence of their pride.
Generations of US military personnel collect challenge coins, they are a right of passage of military life today and are treasured by soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.
Today, these challenge coins are carried by us military, as well as policemen and firefighters. These custom coins identify the holder, as a member of a special unit with a long history and mission.
When warriors gather, they sometimes challenge each other by “coining or challenging.” The individual unit unique coin is slammed on a bar to challenge all in the group to display their own coins; he who is without his coin must buy the round, of all have the coin the one issuing the challenge must pay the round of cheer.
The tradition or history of challenge coins can be traced to World War II when American forces deployed around the globe fighting for the nation’s freedom. Soldiers back to World War I and the Civil War and even as far back as the Roman Empire left for battle with a custom coin struck just for them. Returning home with a coin in their pocket and kept it long after the battles were done as a permanent piece of military memorabilia of their wartime experience.
US military soldiers posted in Germany after the war took on the popular “Phennig check.” The phennig was the smallest unit of German currency. When someone called for a phennig check, a soldier who could not produce one had to buy a round of drinks for his unit members.
The popularity of challenge coins spread during the Vietnam War, inspired by Special Forces that custom minted coins to help express the unique circumstances and strong bond forged by them. Some special forces groups wanted their own custom coin to increase camaraderie and symbolize the pride of membership in an elite fighting force or group.
Just as your automobile is not merely transportation, a challenge coin is not merely a coin or token. Challenge coins today are a deep source of pride for America’s warriors in every part of the chain of command. Commanders use them as recognition awards and trophies. Many senior military officers will often pass out their coins as gifts to foreign dignitaries or civilians that they work with.
It is most important, that a challenge coin is carried at all times. Today coin checks are a common part of US military life, and carry a variety of penalties, are still applied, for those found with no coin.