You may have visited a cemetery before and may have seen a headstone with coins on it. Do you know why? This article descrives the meaning of placing a coin on the grave marker of a soldier that has made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
Of course, for some cultures it has different meanings. The ancients would place coins with the deceased with a belief that it would cover the fee to have them cross the river Styx. The tradition of leaving coins with members of the military, especially men or women that may have died in combat, dates back to the Roman Empire.
For the United States, the practice became popular during the Vietnam War. With all of the political turmoil in the 60’s and 70’s surrounding the war, it was a way for friends and comrades to visit a fallen friend and leave a coin as a marker to the family that they had been there to pay respect, without having to contact the family directly, and possibly make a bad situation worse.
As for meanings of different denominations of coins, a friend, or an acquaintance that visits may only leave a penny. A nickel would be left by someone that may have been through boot camp or trained with them, while someone that served in another platoon in the same company may leave a dime. A quarter would be left by someone that served in the same outfit or was with the soldier when they died.
Some Vietnam veterans would simply leave coins as a “down payment” to buy their fallen comrades a beer or to play a hand of cards when they would finally be reunited.
Pennies are left on graves, most of all, in remembrance of the deceased. Leaving a coin from your pocket is a way to leave a part of yourself at the burial site. The coin is a visual reminder that, even in death, the memory of the deceased lives on. It is also a sign of respect to the dead, as it shows that their memory has value to you and is something you want to commemorate.
This is a tradition that has been held onto by members of the United States Military. The money left at graves in national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries is left in place for a time, but is eventually collected, and the funds are put toward maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans.
The Air Force fighter pilots throw nickels into the grass at grave sites. This tradition began in the early 50’s when phone calls on public phones were only a nickel. Prior to leaving on a dangerous mission, pilots would toss a nickel into the grass so his team mates could notify the next of kin if he didn’t make it back.
Jewish people leave stones on headstones – there are many variations to this practice, but most popular is that cemetery visitors leave a pebble or stone as a token to commemorate their visit. The amount of pebbles gathered over time, unofficially, represent the level of mourners who had visited the grave site.
No matter what the original intention of the coin or pebble may be, it seems clear that when left on a headstone it’s a symbol of remembrance and respect. A way of telling all who pass by that the person buried there was loved and visited often.
The information used in this article was obtained from Snopes.com (http://www.snopes.com/military/coins.asp). Variations of this information is also posted on multiple blogs and websites by various authors throughout the internet.
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