July 30, 2008
Coasties Huneycut and Mertin made a point to see me soon after I was given the Challenge Coin to make me aware of its history and significance. Mertin remembers back to boot camp when he was given a pamphlet on the challenge coin. It goes back to WWI when a rich Ivy Leaguer enlisted in the Army Air Corps and as a gift to his squadron he made gold coins for them. As the story goes, an individual from the squadron was either shot down in France or somehow happened to get caught there and was going to be executed. The only ID tag on him to prove he was an American was the coin around his neck in a leather pouch. While he was on the way to his execution, somebody verified the coin and prevented his death. When this individual returned to his squadron, all the members were ordered to wear their coins.
The coin is not an official medal but it carries weight in the services and gives credit to those who earn them Huneycut states. He furthered my education on the coin as follows. When a whole squadron performed well, the commanding officer would receive a medal recognizing their efforts. This did not sit well with the men so they would steal the medal (cut it off the CO's uniform) and pass it among them. This describes how it was presented to me.
Captain Sommer had the coin in his right hand and extended it to give it to me and to shake my hand with it at the same time. In conclusion of the shake, he turned our hands so that his was on top of mine and then he let go ensuring I had the coin. This handshake transfer is consistent with history because as the coins became popular, they had to be presented incognito.
Huneycut, Mertin, and I spoke about why there are so many stories about the origin of the Challenge Coin. They both agreed that back in WWII when guys were on watch, they would tell stories to each other to pass the time and keep themselves awake and sharp. Storytelling and such is a dying conversation because of the internet and technology these days but an old fashion guy like me loves to talk and learn about the history around him.