THE LEGEND OF THE CHALLENGE COIN
As the legend goes, a wealthy lieutenant ordered small, gold plated bronze medallions and presented them to the men in his squadron as a memento of their service together.
One of the pilots in the squadron placed the coin in a leather pouch, which he wore around his neck. A short time later, the pilot’s aircraft was damaged in battle and he was forced to land behind enemy lines. He was captured and robbed of all of his possessions, except the coin hidden in the pouch around his neck.
He later escaped during an attack on the German’s holding him captive, and made it to French-occupied land, but the French were on the lookout for German saboteurs dressed in civilian clothing and mistook him as an enemy. He was able to use the coin, engraved with his squadron’s insignia, to confirm his identity and avoid execution.
Once the pilot safely returned to his squadron, it became a tradition for all members to carry their coin at all times. To ensure compliance, the pilots would challenge each other to produce the coin. If the challenged couldn’t produce the coin, he was required to buy a drink of choice for the challenger; if the challenged could produce the coin, the challenger would purchase the drink.
Another legend dates back to the Vietnam war, where challenge coins were given to soldiers by their Commanders, and upon entering a bar, the last to throw down their challenge coin buys the drinks.
President Clinton and President George W. Bush are both known for displaying challenge coins they received from military leaders, and President Obama placed challenge coins on the memorials of the soldiers killed in the Fort Hood shooting.