Challenge Coins: Life Savers and Team Builders

In movies, 2014 is shaping up to be the year of military survival. Early this year, the movie Lone Survivor was released, and audiences reacted positively to the gripping true story. The movie depicts Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell who, with three other Seals, was dropped behind enemy lines in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The Seals’ mission becomes compromised when their location is stumbled upon by local Afghan goat-herders. The team of four had to decide whether to kill unarmed non-combatants or release them, knowing that they might notify the enemy of the Seals’ presence on the mountain. Sure enough, upon the shepherds’ release the Taliban were notified and began hunting in numbers vastly outnumbering the Navy Seals. The movie goes beyond the hunt and firefights and delves into the depths of human character and what man is capable of doing to survive.

The 2014 movie season will end with another story of incredible survival during warfare. In December, the movie Unbroken will be released, detailing the legendary life of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was an Olympic track star in the 1936 “Hitler” Olympics held in Nazi Germany. During World War II, he served on a bomber that crashed into the Pacific challenge coinsOcean. He was ultimately captured by the Japanese and forced to endure excruciating and inhumane treatment that would break any normal man mentally or physically.

These stories of survival on the big screen remind us of the sacrifices and heroism that men in uniform serving the country have made over time. Another story, which has yet to make it to film (but which probably should have), is the history of the first challenge coins. During World War I, men of various backgrounds volunteered to serve and were drafted.

A wealthy member of an air battalion had coins made with the group’s insignia. He passed them out to the squadron and one pilot placed his coin in a pouch around his neck. The pilot was shot down behind enemy lines, yet made his way through the enemy territory and back into France.

Unfortunately, he was captured by a group of soldiers who suspected he was an enemy saboteur posing as a civilian. With no identifying papers, the American was about to be executed when he thought to show his captors his coin. One of the Frenchmen recognized the squadron insignia and the American was released and survived to tell his remarkable story. The term challenge coin was used because members of the military could ask for their coin to be produced to prove membership in a specific unit or branch of the armed services. Challenge coins became popular among members of the military and are still used today as a symbol of pride and membership for a particular group or organization.

Today, challenge coins can be personalized to reflect membership in any organization or military operation, but the sense of pride remains. And stories of military survival exemplify the courage of the men and women who serve every day for their country.

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