Navy Challenge Coins Popular at Sea

Navy Challenge Coins

The commemorative challenge coin for the USS Alabama. This is just one of the many Navy challenge coins being collected today.

In recognition of work well done and dedication to duty, nothing is more coveted to the service men and women protecting the world’s oceans than U.S. Navy challenge coins. Made of various medals and embossed with the insignia of the individual’s, specialized unit or ship, challenge coins are prized keepsakes. The commanding officers, who most often present them, also recognized them as excellent morale boosters.

According to popular legend, military challenge coins originated during World War I when a downed pilot escaped from his German captors, donned civilian clothes, and made his way back to allied lines only to be “challenged” by French forces who threatened to execute him. The pilot, so the story goes, was saved when his squadron’s insignia, emblazoned on a medallion he wore around his neck, was recognized by one of the French soldiers.

It was decades, however, before the modern military services began presenting challenge coins on a regular basis. In fact, they became popular enough during the Vietnam conflict that a modified history of challenge coins states they originated with the Special Forces during that war. While Airborne units and Rangers followed in the tradition, it was not until the First Gulf War (1990-1991) that military challenge coins became the most popular.

U.S Navy challenge coins have more than kept pace with the custom and, according to some collectors of military challenge coins, lead the way in the number of them. One of the Navy’s first challenge coins was minted in1998 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville (FL). In commemoration of that station’s 60th anniversary, it featured the World War II logo of that station and was presented to all employees. One of the Navy’s latest challenge coins was minted in 2009 and honored the 1919 opening of NAS Lakehurst (NJ) and its transition to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

In keeping with their history, military challenge coins continue to challenge, but in a manner much less serious than that encountered by that brave World War I airman. Today, the challenge most often concerns the drinks bought by the hapless serviceman who, when “challenged,” does not present his/her unit coin. In order not to be caught short in such circumstances, challenge coins must be carried at all times.

As military challenge coins have prospered within the separate services, so have they prospered as collectibles. Today, military challenge coins can be purchased at relatively modest prices from traditional coin dealers, at auctions, and through a number of internet sources. There are several choices within the overall field, but whatever the choice, the true value of military challenge coins lies deep within the pride of and dedication to the unit and the service men and women they represent.

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