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Custom Challenge Coins History from the Vietnam War

The military challenge coin tradition began long before the Vietnam War but in Vietnam these custom military coins had a whole new meaning. Just as in World War 1 and Korea, these coins were used in the military challenge drinking games but Vietnam’s particular traditions surrounding their custom military coins had very specific purpose.


Bullets as a Badge of Courage

Tmilitary-challenge-coin-history-05he tradition of carrying the custom challenge coins in Vietnam actually started out not with military coins, but instead bullets. Bullet groups consisting of highly trained soldiers serving on the frontline were formed. Not just anyone one could be part of these groups, only the worthy could join.  Members of a bullet group would carry a round from their combat weapon in their front hip pocket. The purpose of this special bullet was that when faced with certain capture, the soldier would use it on himself in order to prevent falling into enemy hands. Every soldier knew that if captured, they would face certain torture and were unwilling to risk the lives of their comrades, by divulging to the enemy any information that could result in troop deaths. It was seen as a sign of loyalty, sacrifice and dedication to be willing to take your own life in order to ensure the safety of your fellow brothers in arms.

The use of these bullets was as much of a safe guard as the coins were in WW1. While these bullets prevented capture, the custom military coins were used to prove that you were a part of the US military during the first World War. Spies were infiltrating Allied Forces on all fronts and the coins were custom made to prove that the soldiers were who they claimed to be and not enemy spies. Both the bullets and the military challenge coins served as safety measures in their respective wars.

The bullets in the Vietnam War became a badge of courage and soldiers couldn’t help but show them off like their modern day custom military coin cousins. In their limited leisure time these elite soldiers would spend quite a deal of it at the “hooch” bar where they would all play the game of who carried the bigger bullet over a few drinks. Eventually this evolved into a drinking game where one soldier would challenge another by producing his own bullet and then slamming it onto the bar counter top.  If the recipient of the challenge was not able to also produce his own bullet, he would then be forced to buy the challenger a drink. However, if the challenge recipient did, in fact, carry their bullet the challenger would be buying him a drink because the challenge had been met.

Custom Challenge Coins

Tmilitary-challenge-coin-history-06he longer the game continued the larger the caliber of the ammunition carried became. The one with the biggest bullet had immediate bragging rights, especially if they earned themselves a drink by challenging another or meeting a challenge themselves.  Soon it wasn’t just bullets but grenades and mortars that were used in the game and there came the problem. It is dangerous enough to slam live ammunition onto a bar counter top but even more dangerous when using grenades and mortars. In order to prevent possible disaster, munitions were switched to custom challenge coins. These custom coins were often personalized with their unit name, symbol and possibly even their own personal name.  The rules of the drinking game were the same, just slightly less dangerous now that it was played with military challenge coins and not live rounds.

As the Vietnam War progressed, many different types of custom challenge coins were produced that represented each particular bullet group. More and more groups were started along with numerous different custom military coins. The custom military coins were unique to each unit and designed to represent their specific function. The tradition of the military challenge coins may have started before the Vietnam War but it took on a whole new meaning during it.  The tradition is alive and well but much more widely practiced. Civilians, such as policemen or firefighters now seek out a challenge coin maker in order to have their very own custom challenge coins designed. The challenge coin is no longer just a military practice but it remains a symbol of courage, dedication and honor.

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