Challenge coins boast a rich, fascinating history. Over thousands of years, these unique tokens have immortalized extraordinary events, bravery, camaraderie, and other values far above financial benefit. Challenge coins have long held significant worth among military circles, and they have also found growing appreciation in civilian life.
The tradition of awarding coins stems from ancient Rome, when soldiers would receive a special coin above their wages for superior service. These coins bore the inscription of the soldier’s legion or unit. The soldiers kept them as tokens of their triumphs.
The modern challenge coin tradition began during World War I. A lieutenant gave solid bronze medallions to his unit before they were deployed to Europe. One pilot kept his medallion in a leather pouch around his neck. When the pilot was captured by the French, this coin was the only piece of identification by which the pilot could show that he was not a German saboteur, and the pilot barely avoided execution. Upon the pilot’s return to his squadron, all members began to keep their coins on their persons. To ensure this, a challenger would demand to see a coin; if the challenged did not show a coin, he had to buy a drink for the challenger. This tradition persisted throughout the war and for years afterward.
Since the last century, challenge coins have been esteemed as tangible keepsakes of excellent service among the armed forces. Eleven hundred original coins were created in 2004 to encapsulate the legacy of the USS Parche (SSN 683), the most highly decorated boat in the U.S. Navy. The USS Parche served for thirty years, having successfully completed nineteen valiant deployments. Past crew members received 1,013 of the coins at the decommissioning ceremony, and Parche’s final crew was presented with the remaining 87 coins which were inscribed with the recipients’ names and a special reverse.
Challenge coins have become quite popular for civilian purposes. A poignant example is Brad Tower’s coin that he had minted in remembrance of his teenage son, Ben, who died tragically in 2016. Mr. Tower wanted an enduring memorial that reflected his son’s spirit and passion for football. Mr. Tower gave the coins to Ben’s former football teammates, and one of the coins was featured during the opening coin toss of a game in Ben’s honor. Ben’s coin is priceless to his friends and family as a tangible way to remember him forever.
A challenge coin is small in size, yet it carries an immeasurable weight of significance that only hearts can comprehend. Its craftsmanship and peculiar details conjure up recollections of hard-fought battles and milestones. Every coin bestowed represents unique memories which far exceed any monetary value.