There’s little doubt that challenge coins are military in origin. While all branches of the armed forces-Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and the Coast Guard-have some history when it comes to military challenge coins, the legend that is predominantly accepted as the beginning of these coins is based on a lieutenant deployed during World War I.
According to legend, challenge coins of solid bronze were created by a rich lieutenant for every member of his squadron as a token of their service together. One pilot placed his coin in a pouch worn around his neck. Later on, the man was captured by the Germans when he was forced to land behind enemy lines due to a damaged aircraft. During transport to a permanent POW camp, the pilot was able to escape.
When a French patrol passed by, the pilot who had most of his belongings confiscated, offered his military challenge coin as proof that he was an American. It saved his life! Once the pilot returned to his squadron, they each agreed to carry the challenge coins at all times.
Today, the challenge coin tradition has spread to the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Challenge coins now enforce solidarity and hold unit members to a certain standard. Those challenged to produce
their coins must do so immediately. If they are unable to, they must buy a round of drinks or perform some other service for everyone who displays his or her military challenge coin.
The honor even reaches to our highest office. Bill Clinton had several military challenge coins on display during his term as President and George W. Bush received a Marines challenge coin from a patrol in Iraq while he was in the Oval Office.
Does your Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard unit have challenge coins? They are an impressive way to display honor, loyalty, and unity.