Challenge Coin Folklore

marine challenge coin

A challenge coin isn't always round in shape - these unique bottle opener coins are also popular.

Where challenge coins originated from is a topic of much debate to this day. There is no evidence that will support the fact that the coins came from any particular military branch. However, the branch that does have the most proven history is the United States Army Air Service.

In World War 1, pilots volunteered to fly. Each volunteer pilot was selected to a squadron during their services. Pilots were from every walk of life. Some were born and raised on the farm while others left college to help. There was something intriguing about the power and the ability to fly that brought everyone interested in flying to sign up.

The legend most often told is of a wealthy lieutenant who was also a student ordered these small coins, or medallions that was made of pure bronze and gold plated. He passed them out to all the pilots that were in his squadron so they will have them to remember the sacrifice in service that they completed. The coin had the squadron’s insignia on it, which made the coins valuable to its members.

These military coins were so important to the men and one man in particular decided to place his coin in a leather pouch and wear it around his neck. Later on, this coin would actually save him from being executed by the French Army because the only proof he had on him was the challenge coin around his neck. After this situation, it then became a tradition to all the members who received a challenge coin to wear it or carry it all all times. Over time, these coins were used to challenge their fellow commando’s in the services but to the men that donned them, they knew what sacrifices took place to receive one.

The Challenge

A challenge identifies who is carrying their unit’s coin. A challenge may not be for just a particular unit, it may be for several different units. The only way you can participate in a challenge is if you have been issued a coin. The result of the challenge is to boost morale within the units participating in the challenge. However, when the challenge is forced it can also cause the unit to feel pressured.

To accept the challenge or to initiate the challenge, the coin is brought out of the pocket and placed on the table. A challenge is usually called in a bar. If the bar is too noisy, the coin may be tapped on the counter or table several times so everyone can hear the challenge. If the coin is dropped on the floor, even accidentally, it will be accepted as a challenge to everyone in the room. In order for everyone to participate they must have their coins. If everyone has their coin, the challenger must then buy each person one round of drinks.

There are a variety of rules that can be followed for each challenge. Stick with tradition, or make up your own unique challenge coin “challenge.”

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