It is said that the beginning of challenge coins originated during the time of World War I. At the start of the 19th century, the world was at the point of disaster, and war was coming to a full blast. Countries were either enemies or allies, and life was expected to be extremely severe, short, and devastating. So were the people of the western world stimulated to join forces with the other armies, and volunteers were adding in great numbers, as the public was encouraged to defend themselves and the communities, for life to go on and persevere. In the United States, numerous volunteers from all walks of life filled the flying squadrons.
Among those who led the squadrons was a wealthy lieutenant who came from grand colleges in the cities. This lieutenant ordered medallions of solid bronze for each of the members of his squadron. He presented it to his unit and told them to place their medallions in small leather pouches that would be worn around their necks. These medallions, he said, will be an emblem to prove their membership and give them the identity that is rightfully theirs. At a time when life comes bleakly, it will stand as a pillar for safety, liberty and freedom.
Shortly after challenge coins were distributed among the members of the squadron, the pilot’s aircraft turned out to be severely damaged in a far-away land so that he was forced to land his aircraft just behind the enemy lines. He was then captured by the German patrol, which took everything in the pilot’s possession—everything except the bronze medallion in the leather pouch worn around his neck. So was he taken to a small French town, where he was able to escape the enemies when a bombardment shattered the town and gave him opportunity to save himself from death and destruction. However, as everything was taken from him, he was left without identity. He was able to cross a no-man’s land and advantageously stumbled onto a French outpost, where a band of saboteur had entered the outpost. The French army thought him to be one of the saboteurs and they planned to execute him, for he carried no identification, nothing except the bronze medallion hanging on his neck. One of the French captors saw the medallion and recognized the insignia imprinted on the medallion. This saved the life of the American pilot, and instead of shooting him, the French army gave him a bottle of wine.
From that time on, it had become a tradition in the armies to wear challenge coins in which the insignia or emblem of the army squadron would be imprinted. It was believed that challenge coin carries the distinguished mark that gives its members the identity of being a part of the army. Still, the tradition itself made way for squadrons to offer a challenge to its members on whether or not they carry an emblem with them. If the member could not present this challenge coin, they were to buy a drink for the member of the squadron who had challenged them. However, if the member could present this challenge coin, then it was the challenger who should buy the drink for that other member who was challenged. Thus, the name “challenge coin” was born, and it became a tradition in the military to always carry with them challenge coins. They are to keep and carry this medallion wherever they go, as it signifies their membership, proving their service to the army and to the country. It is the symbol that would ascertain how they offered true service to the nation—an emblem of dedication, loyalty and patriotism.