It’s not unusual for a person to be unfamiliar when it comes to challenge coins. After all, you can’t just see one of these coins as frequent as your regular mediums of exchange. The use of these coins has become very prevalent in various arenas, but they are more popularly known as tokens of recognition within the military.
It has been a tradition for officers within the United States Armed Forces to carry these challenge coins wherever they may go. These coins are symbolic of the unit’s identity, as well as the brotherhood that is practiced within the organization. Coins may vary in design, although most of them hold the organization’s insignia placed in the center of the coin, while its motto is often engraved surrounding the logo. While the coin is usually awarded to one with exemplary performance, it may also be traded or be part of one’s collection.
Different people from different cultures may have varying ideas about where exactly challenge coins came from. One may say the concept of these coins started fifty years ago, while another may claim of its origin dating back since the past century. However, one of the most impressive stories is that of an American pilot who was captured by the Germans.
As he was flying across Germany’s borders, he was shot down and held captive. The pilot remained incarcerated in one of the German’s detention facilities. But somehow, he managed to escape when the British forces attacked. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any of his stuff, aside from his small pouch which contained the distinct coin that had been issued to him by the US military.
Trying to make his way back, he stepped on French territory, where he was confronted and detained given the possibility of him being a member of the opposition. With the French government thinking he’s a German spy, he was brought to execution. However, desperate to live, the pilot tried to convince them that he’s not a spy, but rather part of the allied forces, through showing the medallion given to him by his lieutenant that he’d been keeping in his pouch.
The officer whom he presented the coin to recognized the insignia of the American Unit, as well as other marks of identification, on the medallion. After his identity being validated, the execution was ceased. This is how the legend of the pilot being saved by his challenge coin from absolute death came to be.
Nowadays, it’s not just being part of the military that challenge coins represent. A lot of active members, along with civilian and retired personnel, trade these coins with each other. It’s become a custom for people to present these coins to special guests and dignitaries to certain places to show respect and as a welcoming gesture.
Several presidents of the United States have minted such coins that are to be presented to guests of the White House, as well as foreign country diplomats. This tradition has extended to various other countries around the globe, including Australia, Canada, and Switzerland.
As the years have gone, military coins held designs that are much more intricate and colorful. The new designs are possible due to how advanced today’s manufacturing techniques had become. In the past, you can see challenge coins being created from the basic die struck of brass make, having an emblem and text that’s barely discernible. Today, manufacturers have taken advantage of what technology has to offer, where images can even be created to look three-dimensional, which has a lot more detail that can even match the pictures you can find on your regular dollar bill.