Military coins or popularly known as challenge coins were accidentally introduced during the World War I. It started when rich men who studied in prominent universities like Harvard and Yale, voluntarily dropped out from their term and joined the war. An affluent lieutenant ordered medallions made from solid bronze and gave one to each member of his troop.
A young pilot about to be deployed placed his military coin in a leather pouch around his neck. He wore this as a necklace. It was an unfortunate event that his plane caught fire and he needed to land in enemy lines. After crashing in the ground, the German soldiers held him captive and took all his personal identifications. They however, left the pouch around his neck, thinking it was nothing valuable.
Luck was on the young pilot’s side as the camp of the German was bombarded. He found a way to escape. He dressed as a civilian and reached a French post. During this time, the French soldiers were extra careful because some spies pretended to be civilians. They didn’t believe the explanation of the American pilot and he was lined up for execution. He, then showed his medallion placed inside his pouch. One of the French executioner recognized the medallion and his execution was placed on hold. Few hours later, the French soldiers were able to confirm the identity of the pilot. He was sparred from being executed; instead he was given a bottle of wine.
From then on, it became mandatory among American soldiers to carry their coins wherever they went. This became a means to identify them. Later on, a challenge that originated in the Vietnam War period was reinvented.
In Vietnam, a soldier presents ammunition to challenge another soldier from a different troop. If the challenged soldier could not present any ammunition, he needs to buy drinks for the challenger’s group. However, if the challenger could present any type of ammunition, the challenger would buy him drinks. This went overboard when soldiers started to carry bigger ammunitions and posed a threat. To prevent any accident from happening, military coins were used in replacement of ammunitions. It became a challenge that only soldiers understood.
There were rules followed and restrictions, like in any challenge. The soldiers were required to have the coin all the time. They can place it in their pocket, wallet or place it on a leather pouch and wear it around their neck. The restrictions were: they couldn’t deface the coin; they can’t use it as a belt buckle; the military coins can’t be pierced and worn as a necklace. The coin should always be within reach by the soldier.
The challenge came with a twist; soldiers are permitted to steal the military coin from their challenger given, the challenged is able to steal it, and the challenger has to buy drinks for the challenged.
Over the years, the idea behind military coins was adopted in other military units and by non-military organizations. Police officers, Navy men and private groups implemented distributing coins among their members. Coins were given upon membership, as a sign of appreciation. It symbolized the bond among group members.
In certain groups, designs of the coins vary according to the position of the officer or member to whom it was being presented. It was given as a form of recognition for the years and service the member has rendered.
In recent years, commercial companies such as NFL and NASCAR also made use of challenge coins. It became another form of memorabilia, which caught the interests of collectors. The numbers of collectors buying coins from military and non-military personnel have increased over the years. It created a controversial debate among coin owners. The issue whether such practice was ethical has often been argued on.
Until now, coin owners can freely sell their collection to interested buyers. Some owners opt to turn their coins into cash. However, some give more importance to their hard-earned military coins more than the actual monetary value.