Challenge coins are one of the coolest traditions in the United States armed forces. Each branch of the military exchanges challenge coins to commemorate service and acts of valor.
A great tradition survives the test of time. Challenge coins have lived to see two world wars, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the death of Osama Bin Laden. Even United States Presidents now get in on the act. Presidents from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump have minted challenge coins as a gift to soldiers and foreign envoys.
Read on to learn about the good deeds behind military challenge coins. Explore fascinating military stories and the history behind challenge coins.
Meaning of a Challenge Coin
Challenge coins carry special meaning for members of the armed services. It may represent a special milestone or mission. Those who go above and beyond in the service of their nation receive a challenge coin. Senior leadership often carries challenge coins on them to award extraordinary performance or valor.
They are a great way to boost morale for the unit. Also, challenge coins can foster camaraderie within a squadron or battalion. The coin gives members something to remember their brothers and sisters in service.
History Behind Military Challenge Coins
Before diving into contemporary stories of valor and heroism, we will discuss the history behind challenge coins. It is difficult to pinpoint the minting of the first coin. However, the popularity of challenge coins begins during World War I.
According to military historians, a Lieutenant minted challenge coins for his squadron in WWI. He had the coins engraved with the squadron’s emblem as a sign of the soldiers’ bond. Later, this Lieutenant was captured by German forces. He eventually escaped and was picked up by the French military.
The French did not believe the Lieutenant was an American. On the other hand, they believed he was a spy and prepared to execute him.
Before his execution, the Lieutenant presented his challenge coin to validate his claims. The French recognized the American squadron and released him from their captivity. From that point on, American service members started carrying their challenge coins as a means of identification.
Challenge Coin Stories
Now it is time to share some inspirational stories that led to senior leaders issuing a challenge coin. Read on to hear about rare coins and how to acquire one.
Presidential Challenge Coins
There are few greater honors than receiving a challenge coin from the President of the United States. A former public affairs Marine named Joseph Lee was surprised with a coin from President Barack Obama.
In August 2011, United States Special Operations lost 31 troops in a helicopter ambush. It was the single-largest loss of life for the Special Operations in the War on Terror.
Joseph Lee was supporting the dignified transfer of the deceased troops at Dover Air Force Base. He worked tirelessly to make the families of the deceased feel comfortable. He was surprised when President Obama came up and initiated a conversation with him. After a brief talk, the President’s aide gave him a military challenge coin as a special thank you.
President Trump has continued the challenge coin tradition. He issued coins for exemplary service in support of the 2018 North Korea and United States nuclear talks in Singapore
A Prisoner of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA) designation is one of the most tragic in the military. In each major war, the United States designated thousands of soldiers as POW or MIA.
In rare cases, POWs were returned by the adversary. At the end of the Vietnam War, nearly 700 American troops were returned. Nearly 50 years later, there are still more than 1600 troops unaccounted for.
To survive a POW designation is rare and warrants recognition. These brave individuals receive the POW-MIA coin. It features the flag of the National League of POW/MIA and has a barbed wire design to symbolize their prison.
Congressional Medal of Honor
The Congressional Medal of Honor is one of the nation’s highest achievements. Congress issues a Medal of Honor coin when a soldier goes above and beyond in the line of duty.
There is no statute of limitations on this award. In fact, the Merrill’s Marauders from WWII recently received the Medal of Honor.
The Marauders were on a secret mission in the jungles of Burma in 1944. They traveled on foot to capture a Japanese airfield. The intent was to open up a supply chain between India and China.
Thousands of troops went in and only 200 were left when the mission concluded. Today, only nine Marauders are still alive. The Marauders are deserving recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor challenge coin.
Friday the 13th
It is not easy to become a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy. In the enlisted ranks, you start off as an E-1 seaman recruit. If you rise up the ranks to an E-7, you will be a Chief Petty Officer. This rank means that you acquired technical expertise. In addition, you are a leader of fellow enlisted men and women.
One reason that this rank is such a big deal is that you gain access to the Chief Petty Officer mess hall. You now receive better food aboard ships without a long wait.
To commemorate achieving the rank of Chief Petty Officer, a Friday the 13th challenge coin is issued. The coin features the face of infamous Halloween legend Jason Voorhees who was featured in the Friday the 13th movies.
The date is significant because this is when the coin creators were accepted into the mess hall. With Halloween season upon us, we view this as one of the most unique and rare coins.
A Recap of Military Challenge Coin Stories
Serving in the United States armed services is an honor. To remember their sacrifice, soldiers and civilians alike exchange challenge coins. Some coins are more special than others, like the POW/MIA or Presidential challenge coin.
If you want to purchase a military challenge coin, complete our form today for a price quote.