The Challenge Coin That Saved A U.S. Serviceman’s Life

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(Image provided by West Seattle Coins)

(Image provided by West Seattle Coins)

Challenge Coins have been a part of military life since World War I. The first Challenge Coin—as the story goes—was the idea of a wealthy U.S. solider. He decided to buy everyone in his unit a coin engraved with the battalion’s insignia. Soon after, the unit’s plane was shot down by Germans. Only one man survived the crash and was quickly captured. The Germans stripped him of his belongings and all forms of personal identification, except for his coin, hanging from his neck in a leather pouch.

The pilot escaped and made it out of enemy territory. Dressed in civilian clothes, he eventually arrived at a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French didn’t believe who he was. German soldiers routinely posed as civilians.  With no forms of identification and unable to distinguish his American accent, they ordered him to be executed. That is until the pilot remembered the coin around his neck. Astonishingly, one of the Frenchman recognized the battalion’s insignia. Instead of being executed, they offered him a bottle of wine. Now, there’s still some debate about the timeline and accuracy of the story, but the rest of it might seem familiar.

After the U.S. pilot got back to his comrades, the men in his squadron made an unofficial rule to have their medallions, or coins, on their person at all times. To make sure that everyone complied with this new rule, a game was created that’s still played by soldiers today. When meeting for drinks or food, a solider can request to see another soldier’s coin.  If they can’t produce the coin, then he’s responsible for buying everyone a round of drinks.

Challenge Coins are a metal coin, usually bronze, that bares a troops insignia on them. They’re usually given out after an accomplishment or to improve morale. The term “Challenge Coins” comes from their ability to provide credentials for a soldier when his military history is challenged. When a soldier’s military background is questioned, or “challenged”, he or she presents the coin to erase all doubt in the challengers’ mind.

West Seattle Coins specializes in gold buying and dealing in rare coins. We are a family-owned business that was established in 1979 in the West Seattle Junction. We also buy and sell gold, silver, diamonds, currency and jewelry. Visit us first for a free evaluation.

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