Challenge Coins

 A challenge coin (also called a "unit coin") is a medal or medalet about the size of a half dollar or quarter.  The coin carries the insignia and motto of  a military unit. They are often awards and not always given to every member of  a large group, such as an army or division.  The coin is a symbol of  membership and a talisman of achievement.  Most often, these coins serve companies, grades, and occupations.  They are called challenge coins because the soldier caught without theirs will have to buy a round of drinks or perform some other ritual.

Challenge coins have moved from the uniformed military to the civilian sector.  There are challenge coins for employees of the Department of Defense, FBI, and other paramilitary public services. Researchers have found several origins for unit coins, probably all of them

independent of the others.  Writing for the NCOA Journal (Nov-Dec 2000) Vince Patton Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard placed the origins of the unit challenge coin in the Boer War.

Most likely independent re-inventions have been attributed to a World War I aviator, of course, the World War II "Short Snorter" as well as one Col. "Buffalo Bill" Quin of the 17th Infantry during the Korean conflict, and to the Army Special Forces of the 1960s.  "A member of the 11th Special Forces Group took old coins, had them overstamped with a different emblem, then presented them to unit members, according to Roxanne Merritt, curator of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum Ft Fort Bragg, N.C. A former commander of the 10th SFG picked up on the idea, becoming the first to mint a unit coin for a U.S. military unit. The 10th Group remained the only Army unit with its own coin until the mid-1980s, Merritt said, when "an explosion took place and everybody started minting coins."

During the Boer War, mercenaries (auxiliaries) were paid off with a handshake and a shilling.  The shilling was in the officer's hand and was supposed to be passed without notice.  This is the earliest reference I have found to a "unit coin."

During World War I, an American soldier from a wealthy family had made for himself and his mates medallions with the unit crest on them. Separated from his unit during a battle and wounded, this man (or one of his comrades) was captured by French civilians who would have killed him for a German, had his medallion not shown him to be an American. This was another origin of the "unit coin" (or medallion). 

6 years ago

Another blog worthy.

6 years ago
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