Challenge Coin History



A Summary of the Military Challenge Coin History

As the story goes, it all started during the First World War in which aircraft were deployed for battle on a large scale. To fill the newly commissioned flying squadrons, American volunteers from all over the country flocked to offer their services. Many of them were descendants of wealthy families attending Harvard and Yale and had quit their courses mid-term to join the war efforts. Proud of his tradition, a wealthy lieutenant in one of the flying squadrons had medallions forged in solid bronze and bestowed them on his unit members.

According to historical records, one pilot wore the medallion around his neck by putting it in a small leather pouch. This became the origin of the Challenge coin. However, it was not yet known by that name.
Shortly after the start of World War II, the pilot was forced to land in enemy territory due to damage caused by anti-aircraft artillery.  He was subsequently taken captive by the German forces. To discourage any escape attempts, the Germans stripped him of all personal identification and belongings, except for the pouch worn around his neck.  Soon after his capture, he was transferred to a small French town near the border.  Amid the confusion created by heavy bombardment, he escaped the clutches of his prisoners.  Nevertheless, he was without any personal identification and had no evidence to prove his identity.

Donning civilian attire, he succeeded in dodging German patrols and crossing the front lines.  With great difficulty, he stumbled upon a local French outpost on the other side.  However, it was known that the German forces were very adept at sending spies into French territory, often dressed in civilian attire to avoid detection.  Not recognizing the pilot’s American accent, the French patrol captured him immediately and mistook him for a spy.  To make matters worse, the pilot had no identification to prove otherwise.

The French Patrol had almost decided to execute him when he suddenly realized that he still had his medallion inside the pouch he wore around his neck.  He showed them the medallion, and fortunately enough for him, one of the French soldiers identified the squadron insignia printed on the medallion. However, they still weren’t sure of his identity and kept him captive but the medallion had delayed his execution long enough for them to confirm his identity.  Instead of executing him, they handed him a bottle of wine.

Once this story reached the pilot’s squadron, every other pilot made sure to carry his medallion with him at all times. To ensure that everyone carried their medallion with them, a challenger would randomly ask anyone in the squadron to show their medallion and if they failed to show it, then they had to buy a drink for the challenger.  If they did have their medallion with them, the challenger would have to buy a drink for them.  Hence, the name Challenge coin was originated.

The tradition of carrying a Challenge coin carried over for many years, even after the war was over. Many surviving members of the flying squadron still challenged their ex-unit members whenever they met up.  Soon, this tradition was picked up by other military units, belonging to air, ground and maritime forces.  Today, a military Challenge Coin is recognized as a symbol of pride, strength and courage.


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