Spent all yesterday at the gun show selling some guns for a friend’s dad. I’m too old for that crap. 10 hours on a concrete floor is NOT any fun anymore. But the ‘variety’ of people was interesting!

I think I saw every ethnicity represented, old, young, females with and without men, veterans (old and new), and some interesting ‘characters’.

So, you get a throwback post…

The Challenge Coin

Throwing the last of the tickets on the table in disgust, Aaron looked at Matt and the rest of the table and said, “Well, I guess we got snookered again.  Sometimes I think that is my typical luck, and it seems like it’s rubbed off on everybody else tonight.”

Matt laughed. “Well, we’re not going home empty handed, Aaron, and I think the colonel will be pretty happy with this, considering our competition this weekend.  I don’t think we could legally have won anything anyway.”

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 and the winners of the raffles admiring their prizes.

A small crowd gathered looking at the scores, and more than a few glances came their way.  The SAS and the SEAL team were off in a corner by themselves and raucous laughter was heard every few minutes.  Jesse looked 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?”

“This damn Army sergeant keeps trying to catch us without our coins, sir. Aaron 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, “What coins are y’all talking about?”

The old man reached into his shirt and pulling out a pouch that was around his neck on a leather thong. He pulled an old silver coin from it and palmed it in his right hand.  “Just wait and see, Jesse,” he said, an 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!”  Removing his hand, he revealed a coin lying 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 Cronin. “Do you even know what we’re talking about, old man?”

He 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 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 uncertain at this point. The old man smiled, 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 then.  “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 added, “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 liber” 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.

The old man turned to Jesse.  “You about ready girl? We got miles to go tomorrow and I ain’t gettin’ any younger.”

Jesse just shook her head.  “Well, Papa, I guess since ‘you’ need your sleep I guess we better get you to bed.”

Aaron looked like he was going to say something, but stopped when Matt gave him the quiet hand signal.  Matt noticed the old man smiling, and he guessed he caught it.  The old man got up and so did Matt, Aaron and Jesse.

Fishing in his wallet, the old man passed Matt and Aaron cards.  “Matt, Aaron, it was a pleasure to meet y’all, and I wish you the best in your careers; and if you ever get to West Texas, give me a call.  I’ll treat y’all to some good barbecue on me.”

Aaron reached across and shook the old man’s hand, and Jesse walked around the table to give both Matt and Aaron hugs, and a peck on the cheek for Aaron, who promptly started turning red again.

Matt took the card and shook hands with the old man.  “Mr. Cronin, if I ever get out that way I will, and thanks for letting us join you.  I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve never even checked your scores.  Do you know how well y’all did?”

“Nope, and I really don’t care.  This trip was just for fun and to get outta Texas for a bit, and let Jesse see a different part of the country,” the old man replied.

Jesse looked at Matt asking, “Did you go look?  And if you did, how’d we shoot?  Papa never tells me anything.”

Matt, looking at both Jesse and the old man responded, “Well sir, y’all out shot everybody but the SAS and you tied them at 462 of a possible 470 points.  AND you did that without really modern guns, or scopes or spotting scopes.  If y’all had been a bit faster, you would have won the law enforcement side hands down, and probably beaten most of the military folks.”

Jesse and Aaron both looked at Matt in incredulity, but the old man just smiled.  Jesse hit the old man on the shoulder.  “Dammit Papa, why didn’t you tell me we did that good?”

“Cause I don’t care, hon.  This is all for fun, so it don’t make a damn how good we did.  And I knew coming in I was too old to run that far that fast.  But I wanted you to see that you can compete with the boys, and you don’t have a damn thing to be apologetic for.  Now let’s go.”

The old man and Jesse slipped out the back door, as quietly as they’d come.


Wuff… — 16 Comments

  1. The Misguided Children see a lavely girl under familial protection of an apex Operator, one who probably has his own backhoe. Down, boy. Liked this chapter for how quietly the shiv gets placed before Sgt. Airborne.

  2. This has always been one of my favourite passages, ever since I first read it. Thank you. And I’m with retired — I miss the Old Man.

  3. One of the Old Men I had the privilege to meet was the Bishop of Micronesia back in the early 70’s. Guy just… was Faith, embodied. And he had the scars to prove it, from a Japanese prison camp. But he reminds me of Cronin.

    Another old hand was a Marine in Vietnam. Nice guy, but he was the type of guy who could walk into a drunken brawl and just calm everyone like throwing oil on turbulent water. Thousand yard stare, but not lost into it. And there’s things about elephants in that war that aren’t meant to be known by mere men.

    Then there was the old man who lived behind us who loved tinkering with bikes and Lionel trains. He shot 7 Stukas down in one mission in WWII. He was the old grandpa type of guy to all the kids, but if he stared at you when you were doing something stupid, you could feel it, and you stopped.

    And more, and more memories of Old Men come to mind.

    Your description of the Old Man reminds me of so many great Old Men I have had the privilege to know. Thanks for bringing these memories back.

    10 hours of hard concrete floors and bad acoustics. Bleh. My tolerance of things like that is minimal at best. Good for you to do it for a friend.

  4. I never heard of this challenge coin bit until the last few years, and it was in the context of collectible coins offered as a fundraiser with some Baen’s people (I think). My service was US Army medic, 1972-75, totally in USAREUR. Is that why I am/was ignorant of the practice?

  5. It was a great series and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. I hope somewhere down the line, another hero from Texas appears.

  6. All- Thanks! Pat, I don’t think medical did challenge coins, it was mainly combat outfits. I know 101st and 82nd had them, along with SF. Navy did them for ships, subs, and squadrons, and SEALS, going back to the 1970s.

  7. Challenge coins originated in Viet Nam with Special Forces, so it sounds like The Old Man has one of the originals.

    By the early 80s, they were common in the Army, most units had them. Often you could go to the PX Arcade and buy what amounted to a souvenir of the unit you were assigned to, which was cool as a souvenir, but anyone that attempts/ed a an actual coin check with one of those deserves an educational beatdown. (A mild one. For the first offense.)

    Yes, I have at least one I purchased. I have a bunch I was awarded, most of which are kinds like the 5th Oak Leaf Cluster on the AAM, official recognition that you were here and didn’t screw up. They’re all in a ziplock baggie in the box with all the certificates more fragile egos would be framing and hanging on a wall…

  8. Also, if anyone is interested, Howard Taylor of the web comic Schlock Mercenary (which everybody here should be reading daily) has an Unofficial Anecdotal History of Challenge Coins available in .pdf format, compiled and edited by his wife Sandra, at the link.

  9. Drang- Agreed, I don’t have an ‘I love me’ wall… Just not into that. Re Howard, and he pulled his left wing crap, I stopped looking at anything he did…

  10. Hey Old NFO;

    Still was one of my favorite passages from the “Gray Man” series. Good that you dusted that one off. You are really dedicated to walk around on concrete floors for 10 hours, but will you get a blogpost out of it?

  11. Not exactly the same thing, but probably worth the same amount of money, aside from the sentimental aspect.