A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion bearing an organization's insignia or emblem and is carried by the organization's members. They are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale.
Origins of the challenge coin
so many other aspects of military tradition, the origins of the
challenge coin are a matter of much debate with little supporting
evidence. While many organizations and services claim to have been the
originators of the challenge coin, 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).
Air warfare was a new
phenomenon during World War I, when the army created flying squadrons
and manned them with volunteer pilots from every walk of civilian life.
some of the early pilots came from working class or rural backgrounds,
many were wealthy Ivy League students who withdrew from classes in the
middle of the year, drawn by the adventure and romance of the new form
As the legend goes, one such Ivy Leaguer, a wealthy
lieutenant, ordered small, solid-bronze medallions (or coins) 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.
while later, this pilot's aircraft was heavily damaged by ground fire
(other sources claim it was an aerial dog fight), forcing him to land
behind enemy lines and allowing him to be captured by the Germans. The
Germans confiscated the personal belongings from his pockets, but they
didn't catch 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.