Challenge coins have been around for a long time now. Most people used to find them quite the peculiar item. There was a time when these military coins were only known by a few people. More often than not, the people who knew about them were the people who owned them, people who made them, or people who just had a strong interest in military history.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that people began to have some interest in these coins. Collecting military coins is steadily becoming more and more a popular hobby. These coins can be quite difficult to collect given just how limited they are in numbers.
Military coins have a wonderful story behind them. The only problem with their story is that there are so many of them that most people nowadays aren’t even sure where challenge coins really came from. Below is the storied history of these military coins.
Different origin stories
There are a lot of stories surrounding these military coins. Some stories are more popular than others. The two most popular stories however are those that trace the tradition of custom military coins all the way back to World War I or the Vietnam War.
During the First World War, young men all over the country enlisted to serve their country. Some of them would come from rich backgrounds and were students at Ivy League schools like Yale or Harvard. One such man eventually became a lieutenant. This man decided to have medallions made for his flight squadron.
Tragically, their plane got shot down during the war. One of them survived and was taken by the Germans as a prisoner of war. This man was stripped of all his belongings save for the coin that his lieutenant gave him. Eventually this man escaped hi German prison and made his way back to French territory.
Upon arriving into Allied territory, the downed flight squadron member was caught by the French. He was threatened with execution since he couldn’t provide any proof of his identity. Instead, he showed them his medallion which one of the French recognized as one of the medallions owned by a US flight squadron. The man was spared and treated as the ally that he was.
The other origin story of challenge coins can be traced all the way back to Vietnam. Soldiers who served in the Vietnam War were known to keep live ammunition on them. These groups were known as bullet clubs. There developed a tradition among those who kept these bullets.
A soldier would slam his ammunition on the table to challenge a soldier. Failure to respond meant that the loser had to buy the challenger a round of free drinks. Eventually the thought of carrying live ammunition was banned so they substituted them with coins.
How they became popular
These military coins became popular once Bill Clinton decided to give out coins to servicemen or people who visited his office. These special administration challenge coins were a habit particular to Bill Clinton since no one had done it before. In fact, his portrait in the White House proudly displays his own collection of coins in the background.
The presidents that came after him also followed suit. George W. Bush is known having given out special coins whenever he visited US military bases in Iraq. He’s also known for giving out coins to people who helped during 911.
President BarackObama is also known for handing out coins to some of his visitors in the White House and servicemen. His most famous moment however is perhaps when he placed challenge coins on the memorials of soldiers killed during the Fort Hood incident back in 2009.
The other origin story of challenge coins can be traced all the way back to Vietnam. Soldiers who served in the Vietnam War were known to keep live ammunition on them.