The history of the coin
Depending on who you ask, the “challenge coin” has historical roots dating back from nearly one-hundred years to as early as the Roman Empire. The most common narrative purports that a wealthy American lieutenant in World War I distributed matching bronze coins to his unit members before they were deployed. A fighter pilot from his unit was shot down and forced to land in hostile German territory. The pilot was subsequently captured and temporarily held in a detention facility that was later attacked by British Forces. This attack afforded the American an opportunity to later escape.
At some point after his escape, and without many of his personal belongings with him, the American was confronted by French soldiers who detained him. He was presumed to be a German spy at the time, which led the French to nearly take his life. The American pleaded with the French Officer that he was indeed an ally, and presented a challenge coin he had received from his Lieutenant some time before being deployed. The coin was struck with the American’s Unit insignia and other identifying marks, one of his French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him they gave him a bottle of wine.
The challenge coin tradition has spread to other military units, in all branches of service, and even to non-military organizations as well. Today, challenge coins are given to members upon joining an organization, as an award to improve morale, and sold to commemorate special occasions or as fundraisers.
In keeping with tradition, challenge coins still earn service members their share of alcohol. Military members often tap their challenge coins upon meeting in a bar — shouting, “Coin check!” — and anyone who either cannot produce one or is the last to show it buys the first round of drinks.
The challenge, which can be made at any time, begins with the challenger drawing his/her coin, and slapping or placing the coin on the table or bar. In noisy environments, continuously rapping the challenge coin on a surface may initiate the challenge. (Accidentally dropping a challenge coin is considered to be a deliberate challenge to all present.) Everyone being challenged must immediately produce the coin for their organization, afforded a "step and a reach", and anyone failing to do so must buy a round of drinks for the challenger and everyone else who has their challenge coin. However, should everyone challenged be able to produce their coin, the challenger must buy a round of drinks for the group.
Since 2006 the Veterans Day Gathering has presented a challenge coin to all veterans in attendance. This first year was an "off the shelf" version and from 2007 to current day, each coin has been a custom commemorative coin. These coins have become synonymous with the annual Veterans Day event.