Challenge Coins…

There’s a long military history here…

A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion (usually military), bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem and carried by the organization’s members. Traditionally, they are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale. In addition, they are also collected by service members. In practice, challenge coins are normally presented by unit commanders in recognition of special achievement by a member of the unit. They are also exchanged in recognition of visits to an organization.

There are several stories detailing the origins of the challenge coin. According to the most common story, challenge coins originated during World War I. American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy scions attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in mid-term to join the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze and presented them to his unit.

Wiki HERE.

Here are a few of mine…

challenge coins fixed

And Earl was poking me about writing, so here’s a part of a short story I’m working on…

No real people, yada, yada…

The coin…

The old man, Jesse, Matt and Aaron sat in a companionable silence, sipping coffee and nibbling on the deserts and cookies.  Watching the other shooters, wives and girlfriends circulating between tables and admiring the various plaques the different teams had won was interesting.  There was a small crowd looking at the scores and both SAS and the SEAL teams were off in a corner by themselves and raucous laughter was heard every few minutes.  Jesse was looking at the plaque Matt and Aaron had won as the third place military team and decided to eat one more cookie.

“Oh damn, here comes the grunt again,” Matt moaned.

The old man looked across the table with a quizzical expression, “what’s the problem?”

“He keeps trying to catch us without our coins sir, Sergeant you’ve got yours right? Matt shook his head and started digging in his wallet for his as Aaron went for his breast pocket.

Jesse, not understanding what was happening looked over and asked, “Papa what coins are y’all talking about?”

The old man was reaching into his shirt and pulling out a pouch that was around his neck on a leather thong, from it he extracted an old silver looking coin and palmed it in his right hand.  “Just wait and see Jesse,” he said with a evil grin on his face.

The Army Sergeant weaved up to the table and slapped his hand down on the table, calling out,  “Coin check you misguided children! 101st, put up or buy up boys!”  And revealed a coin laying on the table.

Matt and Aaron both slapped their hands down on the table, saying in unison, “Two MEF.” And showed their coins.

The Army Sergeant looked over at the old man, “Do you even know what we’re talking about old man?”

The old man raised his hand to the table top, gently laid it on the table and said, “DOL, Fifth Group; you know what we drink.” And showed the old silver coin in his palm.

The Army sergeant literally turned pale and quickly put his coin back in his pocket, saying “Yes Sir, be right back Sir,” as he turned away and headed for the bar.

Jesse, now totally confused, looked at Matt and Aaron, who were also confused at this point and realized the old man was smiling, if it could be called that.  “Papa, what in the hell is going on?”

“Well, he stepped on his dick is what just happened Jesse; he didn’t think there would be any chance of running across one of us here, and he got caught out.  I hope y’all like brandy.”

Jesse asked, “what do you mean one of ‘US’ Papa, and what’s DOL?”  Matt chimed in, “I’ve never seen him do that either, what did you show him sir or was it what you said?”

Grinning, the old man spun the coin in his hand and passed it to Jesse, reaching under his shirt and taking off the pouch that had held the coin, “There are a few of us old farts around that go back to the early days when Fifth Group was the main Special Forces group in Vietnam.“ Pointing at the coin he said, “All of the old farts like me got silver coins presented by the General in country, and we all had these elephant hide pouches made for them.  We all wore them around our necks, and vowed never to be without them. DOL is De Oppresso Liber, Latin for to free from oppression and the motto of Special Forces.”

As Jesse looked at both sides of the coin and passed it to Matt, she shook her head and just looked at the old man, “Why is THIS the first time I’m finding this out Papa? And what’s this about drinking, I’ve never seen you take a drink in my life at least that I can remember.”

“Honey, there are a LOT of things you don’t know, and I hope to God you never find out; that was a different life and a different time from today.”

At that point a very subdued Army Sergeant returned to the table with four shots and quietly asked, “Sir if there is nothing else, may I be excused?”

The old man just nodded.  He gestured to the others and each picked up the shots, and he toasted, “De oppresso libre;” as they downed their shots.  Jesse shivered and wondered what she had gotten into, and realized she didn’t really like brandy. 

Matt realized the old man they were sitting with was one of the real warriors, and at least for him, things began to fall into place.  The attitude, the old but well cared for rifle, the shooting ability, and his watchfulness all snapped into place and he decided he truly did not want to get on the wrong side of this man.  And he decided that this old man had put more than a few in the ground over the years…

He also wondered if Aaron had picked up on it, or was too enthralled by Jesse to be aware of the bigger picture.


Challenge Coins… — 24 Comments

  1. They’re still among us, and deserve all our respect. Was fortunate enough to meet a few when I served. Most of ’em don’t talk about it now, like the old man in your story.

  2. That’s some mighty fine writing there. Where’s the rest?

  3. Been interested in the history of challenge coins for a while now, and have found each tale about them to be amazing. Thank you for a great story.

  4. Great story Jim, thanks.
    I only have 3 challenge coins, but they’re all mine.

  5. I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing of challenge coins. But I was in for awhile in the Cold War between the VN and PG wars, the biggest thing was the bombing of the BLT.

  6. Rev- Too true.

    Robert- Thanks!

    WSF- I ‘m sure it is!

    Daddy Hawk- Workin on it…

    Brighid- You’re welcome!

    Craig- Thanks!

    CM- They’re more an Army, Navy, Marine thing that AF. And not all commands had them.

  7. I got a few of them when I was in. And yeah, the guy who ‘challenges’ over them is usually the douchebag in the group. Honestly, on more than one occasion, I told commanders that I’d rather have a coin than an AAM. There are a couple that are special that I keep up with my ribbons. The rest make good pirate treasure.

    If you’re in the area, the MAC museum at Dover AFB has a really good display of challenge coins from all of the services.

  8. Hey Old NFO;

    I have several coins, from my 1st INF Division(Big Red One), my Brigade and my Battalion. I also have a couple coins from the Infantry School from Ft Benning. I also have an AOC(Association of Old Crows) coin also. They are neat and unique. I keep one in my wallet even now at work in case somebody coin checks me at the coffee machine( happened before). It is a military thing and most civilians don’t know about it.

  9. Fine writing, sir. Thanks from native son. Memories indeed, some perhaps best disremembered.

  10. I learned about challenge coins in the early 80’s from a 3rd class petty officer that worked for me. He was prior army and spent a tour in Germany. He got tired of standing in the cold staring at his counterpart on the other side of the border and crossdecked to the navy for his second tour. He also told us that a good percentage of the troops would take an extra coin and sew it under the unit flash on their overseas caps (piss cutters) because it made a handy weapon in a bar fight.

  11. Very well written sir.

    Saddly, things are changing. When I joined the Navy in ’93, it was indeed special to get a challenge coin. I myself never earned one on my first boat.

    By the time I was wrapping up working for PSNS at the Bangor Base back in 2010, these coins seemed to have lost their…importance. You could buy them next to coffee cups and hats in the Ships Stores.

    Maybe it’s just a Trident thing.

  12. DB- If I ever get up there, I’ll check it out. Thanks! And you’re not the first one I’ve heard say that…

    Bob- Heard that 🙂

    Cam- Thanks, and that is true too…

    Ray- Thanks, and yeah there ARE multiple uses… 🙂

    FD- In my spare time, between 0300-0330 🙂

    Greg- Thank you, and you’re correct it IS sad.

  13. In my experience in the Army, the Sergeants Major have taken over the joy and privilege of handing out challenge coins. It is fitting and proper (as the custodians of unit morale) that they do so.

  14. Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary is compiling an unofficial history of challenge coins. If you have any stories about your coins or the history behind them contact him so he can incorporate them in to his project.

  15. It’s funny. For a little while after leaving Uncle Sam’s swimming canoe club, I worked at the NMCI Helpdesk. Unsnarled one old Captain’s email in a few minutes after it had been down for nearly three weeks, and he offered me a coin.

    Work wouldn’t let me accept it because some @$$hats collect the things and buy them online. Made the coin a gift over the limit.

    Pissed me off to no end.

    But my favorite coin is the “real” Subron 19 coin. The one with the wings coming out from the coin. You will pry THAT from my cold, dead fingers.

  16. Scott- I ‘know’ which one you’re talking about. And yes, THAT is a keepsake! Thanks for the comment!

  17. Well, I can’t really take credit for poking you enough to get another great story, the teller has the talent for the tale – not the audience.