Origins of the Challenge Coin

Although it is tough to definitively know why and when the challenge coin tradition actually began its true origins stem from the ancient Roman times when soldiers were rewarded with specialty minted coins from the Legion for valor in battle.

It was said that the modern military started using the challenge coin in WWI when a wealthy Lieutenant ordered medallions struck in bronze and presented them to his unit. One young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck.

After acquiring the medallion this young pilot was shot down behind enemy lines and was captured by a German patrol. After being stripped of all his identification minus the leather pouch the young airman escaped during an air raid and took off into the French countryside where he stumbled upon a French outpost that was in place to capture German saboteurs wearing civilian clothing. Not recognizing his American accent the French prepared this young pilot for execution when a one of the French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the coin and delayed his demise long enough for them to confirm his identity…rather than kill him they opened a bottle of wine and shared it with him.

After this story became known all the pilots were required to wear a medallion for identification…a crude type of dog tag if you will.

In WWII German infiltrators were known to swap uniforms with dead American soldiers and the only way to confirm that a man was with a particular unit was to present the Unit Coin. When a coin was presented a similar coin was also presented. No coin and they would be denied and held for questioning. This is the first form of two-factor authentication in the crudest way.

Today the Commanders utilize them for on the spot awards for those in their service, and the coins are often used as a heartfelt expression of gratitude. Challenge coins in this context are often handed off during a firm handshake. The coins are often used to identify the bearer as a member of a particular group, and in the bars the world over, the coins are used to issue challenges to fellow members and they must display their coin, or be forced to buy a round of drinks for the group.

To all of our Veterans out there I wish I had a Challenge Coin for all of you because you deserve it. All of us at Thursby want to thank you all for your tireless service to your country.

The Mottos of US Armed Forces

Army - Duty Honor Country
Navy - Not For Self But For Country - "Non Sibi Sed Patriael"!
Marines - Always Faithful - "Semper Fidelis"
Air Force - Aim High - Fly, Fight, Win
USCG - Always Ready "Semper Paratus"