Military challenge coins which are specially minted for a select few star performers, allow military organizations to show their gratitude towards military members who have illustrated the best of talents and the highest standards of service for the organizations.
More and more groups and institutions like to order and collect challenge coins now. But as a coin lover, how much do you know about the initial stories of challenge coins? There are three classical stories about military challenge coins you should know.
Unique military coins that saved a pilot’s life
The first mention of a challenge coin in modern times comes from World War I. The legend goes that a French officer gave away a novelty bronze coin to each member of his flying squad during World War I.
Unfortunately, one of the members of the squad crashed into the German territory and he was captured. The Germans stripped the pilot except for the leather pouch hanging around his neck. Luckily, it was in this pouch that he had kept the coin.
Later, the pilot successfully escaped into France. But, given the tensions between countries at that time, he was perceived as a spy sent by Germany to infiltrate their ranks. The pilot was imprisoned and awaited execution.
It was at this point that the pilot presented the coin and a fellow French pilot recognizes it. It was a novelty piece that only the members of his squad knew about. Isn’t it amazing? The unique challenge coins can really save the lives of soldiers!
Wearable military challenge coins appeared
One of the later, but a more corroborated story comes from the 17th Infantry Regiment of the United States. The account comes from the period of the Korean War, when a Colonel, nicknamed Buffalo Bill, minted coins for his regiment.
The coin had a buffalo engraved on one side, while the other side featured the insignia of the regiment. It also had a small hole on the top to make it easier for the soldiers to wear it around their necks. The custom novelty coins made in the USA are symbolic and meaningful.
The evolution from Pfennig Check to military coins
There is another origins story for challenge coins that comes from Germany. Most accounts say that the ‘challenge’ associated with the custom made coins was started by American soldiers stationed in Germany after World War II.
At the time, they used to carry out what were called ‘Pfennig checks’. Pfennig was the lowest coin available in the German currency at that time. The idea was that if a soldier did not have a coin during a Pfennig check, he had to buy beers for everyone.
It was this Pfennig check that then graduated to the military coins. Soldiers would come to a bar and slam their coins. If any soldier did not have their regiment’s coin, then they had to buy beer for the challenger who called for the coins and also for other soldiers who were carrying their coins. But, if everyone was carrying their coins, then it would be the challenger’s turn to buy the drinks for everyone.
Hundreds of years of military coins history have not taken away the sheen of challenge coins. If anything, the challenge coins are becoming more popular with the times.