History of the Challenge Coin Tradition

Many stories surround the military challenge coin tradition. One involves a pilot being captured by German soldiers during WWII. When questioned by the Germans, the pilot produced his squadron coin as proof of service and was set free. The coin was minted to honor his unit and the camaraderie that bonded members in challenging circumstances. Today, the coins are presented during a handshake and ranked according to rank.


Many traditions have helped build camaraderie among military personnel over the years. One of the most well-known is the challenge coin tradition. These coins are small tokens that signify that a person is a member of a certain groups. They are a way to show pride and respect for the organization. They are usually engraved with the group’s symbol or crest on both sides of the coin. They are sometimes shaped like dog tags, arrowheads, or pentagons. The origin of the challenge coin is unclear. Some people claim that a wealthy military officer in World War I gave his men bronze medallions with their flying squadron logo stamped. These coins were presented to the men before they went out on missions. When one of the pilots was shot down and captured by German soldiers, they assumed he was a spy because he had a challenge coin around his neck. However, the French soldiers recognized the logo on his coin and set him free. The challenge coin has since become a prominent symbol of recognition and appreciation for military personnel and dignitaries. It has also spread to other organizations, such as police and fire departments. Even academic institutions have embraced the challenge coin tradition, which former president Rear Admiral Scott Burhoe started.


challenge coin collection is more than just a small piece of metal; it symbolizes pride and camaraderie. It reminds us how much we can accomplish when we work together. It’s a token of appreciation for the men and women who serve our country. The story behind the coin is unique and often personal, bringing people closer together and forming lifelong bonds. In the past, many military units had challenge coins that featured their emblem and motto. It was to help distinguish them from other soldiers in case they were spotted behind enemy lines. The most common design for a challenge coin is a circle with the unit’s logo on one side and the branch of service on the other. Several methods for a challenge coin range from simple to complex.

The military challenge coin tradition has expanded beyond the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines into other departments and agencies. For example, the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, awards every new officer cadet a challenge coin upon completion of their first-year orientation period. Each coin features the College’s coat of arms on the obverse and the Memorial Arch in both French and English on the reverse. Even sports teams have jumped on the challenge coin bandwagon, stamping them with their team logos and championships to hand out at local events. They’re a great way to create connections with fans and help promote a brand.


Members carry challenge coins as a sign of their membership since they have the logo or symbol of the organization. It is a way for them to identify themselves as part of that group, and it can also serve as a means to display their pride in the organization or their work. The coin is usually round and may have some enamel paint added to it to create its unique look. There are several stories about the origin of the military challenge coin. One story involves a wealthy military officer with bronze medallions made with his flying squadron’s insignia and presented to his men before they went on missions. When the pilot was captured and about to be executed by German soldiers, he showed them his squadron coin, which allowed them to verify his identity and spare his life. Another story comes from the US Navy, where officers would present their subordinates with a new sixpence (a former British currency worth six pennies) to prove their combat service in battle. It would be done with a secret handshake like commanders now do when presenting their challenge coins.


Whether for recognition, a special event, or to build team spirit and camaraderie, custom challenge coins are a popular way to commemorate achievements. From military units to law enforcement and even businesses, these unique coins symbolize recognition and honor. In the military, challenge coins are typically given to unit members or visiting dignitaries to show appreciation for their service or as a token of camaraderie. They can be personalized with several designs and colors to make them more unique and memorable. They can also be engraved with a special message to create a more personal touch. The origin of the challenge coin tradition isn’t entirely clear, but many stories tell its history. One of the most popular involves World War I when an Army airman was shot down behind German lines and used his coin to identify himself to a French resistance patrol. Today, challenge coins are widely used across the military and are often handed out by commanders and other top officials to their staff and others who deserve it. They’re also embraced by non-military organizations such as police, fire, and schools. The glint of a challenge coin has even been seen in the palm of a US President as he shakes hands with a distinguished guest.

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