Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Origin of the Challenge Coins

Published / by Dorothy Kahn

It has always been a tradition in the army to carry challenge coins that signify the owner’s membership in the army. A challenge coin is a medallion of bronze, silver, or copper, which bears the insignia or the emblem of the organization. It is usually used in the military, where membership is identified as one that is precisely precious and valuable, one that represents dedication, loyalty, and patriotism. It signifies the devotion and allegiance of the member to its organization, even when life is at stake, and nothing is left but the desire to endure and be of service to the nation. Challenge coins are presented to the members during times of special achievement or in recognition to a visit to the organization, to signify that they are one with the receiver. It enhances the morale of the members, encouraging them to unite as one.

It is said that the origin of the challenge coin can be dated back to the time of World War II.

Challenge CoinsIn this story, it was said that challenge coins started at the Office of Strategic Service stationed in Nazi of France. During this time, coins were used as a form of Bona Fides, as evidence or proof that the carrier of the coin was indeed a member of the organization. It was used during personal meetings with the assembly, to signify the identity of the person and ascertain his membership to the organization. However, these were not just coins, but coins that bear specific aspects and characteristics that were chosen, to set those coins apart from the other coins. This included the type of the coin that was used, the date of the coin that is imprinted, the colors and the images that are imprinted on the coin, as well as the phrases that were imprinted. The most significant reason for these challenge coins, however, was to prevent future infiltration by members of other organizations, who were not entitled to be part of the assembly. For this, many organizations in the army usually make use of more than one challenge coin, and they differ in terms of aspect or characteristic, depending on the reasons for the organization assembly. Thus, a true member of the assembly should personally know what challenge coin to present to the assembly, to prove him to be a member of the organization.

Thus, in a special meeting with the assembly, it has been a tradition that a member of the organization would challenge the member who had just arrived, asking him to present his challenge coin and prove his membership and allegiance to the group. With this, the challenged member would then present his challenge coin to prove his identity and his membership, to indicate that he is not a spy or an outsider who intends to infiltrate the assembly and spy on what is taking place in their group. Thus, the name “challenge coin” was taken to give name to the coin or the medallion that is being presented to the organization to prove one’s membership to the group. It is taken as a “bona fides” to prove the validation of a person’s membership.

There are other stories that present the beginning of the challenge coin, such as the time when medallions were used in the post-Korean conflict in the 1950s; or the time when solid silver coins were used in Southeast Asia during World War II. Over time, it has been accepted that challenge coins do not merely present the membership and identity of the carrier, but they also signify and attest that they are in true service to the organization.