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A challenge coin is a small coin, usually bearing an insignia or emblem, that is carried by an organization’s members. They are given for multiple reasons, including boosting morale and proving membership. The history of the challenge coin is often debated, and there are many theories as to how it came about.
One story states that the Roman Empire presented them to their soldiers as recognition and rewards for their performance. Another says that they were used during the renaissance to celebrate important events by royalty and the wealthy. There is another theory that it began in World War II, where Office of Strategic Service personnel used coins to confirm that all people at top secret meetings were invited, and not spies. There is also a story that an American soldier carried a coin while on a mission for Philippine guerillas to confirm that he was, in fact, working with them. The most common story comes from a squadron in the United States military during World War I. It is said that a wealthy lieutenant had medallions made out of bronze and presented them to his unit. One pilot carried his in a leather pouch that he kept on his neck. T
he pilot was shot down by the German, and he was captured. The Germans took all of his identification in order to prevent him from escaping, but they allowed him to keep the leather pouch. He was able to escape and make it to a French outpost. However, he had no identification. The French believed him to be a spy and were going to execute him. He presented the medallion to them, and one of the Frenchmen recognized the insignia as that of an American squadron, corroborating his story, and saving his life. Instead of killing him, they gave him a bottle of wine. This account of the history led to a current tradition with challenge coins today. At any time, a member may drop their coin on a table. All other members must produce their coin in a specified amount of time.
This is typically 30 seconds and may include that the coin must be within a step of the person. Whoever is not able to produce their coin must buy drinks for everyone that was able to. However, if someone challenges and everyone is able to produce their coin, the challenger must buy everyone in the group a drink.
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