A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion (usually military), bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem and carried by the organization’s members. They are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale.
Origin of the Challenge Coin Tradition in the United States
The origin of the challenge coin is vague, but the most commonly held view is that the tradition began in the United States Army Air Service, a forerunner of the current United States Air Force.
During World War I, flying squadrons they were manned with volunteer pilots. Some came from working class or rural backgrounds while others many were wealthy college dropouts lured by the adventure and romance of flying.
One legend is that one such student, a wealthy lieutenant, ordered small, solid-bronze medallions struck, which he then presented to the other pilots in his squadron as mementos of their service together. The coin was gold-plated, bore the squadron’s insignia, and was quite valuable. One of the pilots in the squadron, who had never owned anything like the coin, placed it in a leather pouch he wore around his neck for safekeeping. A short time later, this pilot’s aircraft was heavily damaged in combat, forcing him to land behind enemy lines where he was captured by the Germans who confiscated his personal belongings from his pockets, but they missed the leather pouch around his neck. On his way to a permanent prisoner of war facility, he was held overnight in a small German-held French village near the front. During the night, the town was bombarded by the British, creating enough confusion to allow the pilot to escape.
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