The Round Metal Object
(A.K.A. The Challenge Coin)

The military challenge coin is steeped in tradition, but its history is distorted and convoluted. Without all of the exact facts, and with several conflicting histories floating about in cyberspace, this story is based on the “facts” that were passed down with tradition.

Sometime during World War I, a young American pilot in France was presented with a round metal object (RMO) by his Squadron Commander. The RMO itself was a token of his induction into the squadron. The pilot promptly put the RMO in a leather bag, which he hung around his neck on a leather cord. Several weeks later, the pilot was shot down over a contested area and captured by the Germans. The Germans took everything from him, except the leather pouch around his neck. After a week or two in captivity, the pilot managed to escape his captors and ran for his life. Hours later, he came upon a farmstead while searching for food and water. The French farmer who owned the farmstead met him with the barrel of a rifle. The pilot pleaded in English for food and water, but the farmer was unfamiliar with his American accent and took him to be German. You see, there were several German scouts in the area masquerading as British soldiers. When the farmer didn’t recognize the boy’s accent, he figured the boy was a German soldier and turned him over to a group of freedom fighters to find out what do to. The freedom fighters decided on execution.

As the pilot was tied to the firing post, one of the Frenchman saw the leather bag and opened it to find the RMO. After a few moments, the Frenchmen’s eyes lit up and the pilot was released. The freedom fighter recognized the squadron insignia emblazoned on the RMO and knew right away the young man was no German. The RMO literally saved the pilot’s life. The pilot was given a bottle of the finest wine they had on hand and was returned to his squadron. Since that day, military pilots have always carried a RMO for good luck. This RMO, as with all RMO’s to follow, was in the shape of a coin, thus the Challenge Coin was born.
For a more anecdotal history, please read:
Thanks to David Odom for putting this together for us

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