Challenge coins are medals that bears an organization’s logo or emblem that are carried by the members and given to outsiders as an honor. In the United States, challenge coins are part of military tradition that started during World War I when Ivy League students went to war and created these coins as an act of camaraderie. Legend has it that one coin saved the life of a pilot.

According to legend, a pilot was shot down behind enemy lines and captured by German soldiers. Sine the pilot kept the coin in a pouch around his neck, the Germans did not confiscate his coin. That evening, the pilot was kept in a French-German town that was bombarded in the evening by allied forces. The pilot escaped during the bombing. During the next day, the pilot came upon a French military unit who was told to watch for German soldiers posing as citizens. To prevent from being arrested and executed by the French soldiers, the pilot showed them his challenge coin. One of the soldiers recognized the insignia and delayed the execution until they were able to verify the pilot’s identity. Once the story spread, a tradition was born!

Challenge coins were named on the tradition of the challenge. When a member draws his or her challenge coin and slaps it on the table, others must produce their challenge coin. If someone does not have their challenge coin, that person must buy a round of drinks for the group. The challenge is used as a morale builder amongst the group.

NBC Nightly News broadcast a story about the production of challenge coins at the Highland Mint in Melborne, Florida. The story noted that commemorative coins are a “half-billion dollar a year business.” At the end of the story, reporter Roger O’Neil challenged Brian Williams with an NBC challenge coin. Williams not only showed his challenge coin, but showed off a collection of challenge coins he received during his career. Watch the story:

I wonder if Brian Williams collects other coins?

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