MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI -- The unit coin is something many Marines wish to receive. Whether it is from the commanding general or the sergeant major, the coin is something Marines cherish and desire.
Although not many know the history or origin of the coin, they do agree that it is an important part of Marine Corps tradition.
"It is a great memento handed out to only certain individuals," said Col. Dave Darrah, Station commanding officer, "who mean or do something special to the CO or commanding general."
There is a great question as to exactly when in time and for what reason military coins came to be.
"It seems to be anyone's guess as to which military service first used them," said Sgt. Maj. Janet White, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron Sergeant Major.
One theory is that the Roman Empire first presented military coins as a reward for achievement, and the U.S. Army might have a valid claim to being the source of the modern era military coins.
The tale that has the most merit states that during World War I, a wealthy lieutenant in one of the Army flying squadrons ordered bronze medallions, imprinted with the squadron?s emblem, for everyone in his squadron. He carried his medallion in a small leather pouch around his neck.
Shortly after receiving the medallions, the pilot's aircraft was forced down behind enemy lines. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and all of his personal belongings and identification was confiscated, except for the pouch containing the medallion.
A few days later, the pilot escaped and eventually ended up at a French outpost.
Unfortunately for him, the French mistook him for a spy and were going to execute him. In a last effort to identify himself as an American, he showed the Frenchmen his squadron medallion.
The French recognized the American squadron's insignia on the medallion and delayed execution long enough to confirm his identity. Then realizing the mistake they had made, they gave him a bottle of wine.
The tradition within the Marine Corps tends to use coins in various ways. There are generic coins representing a command, a sub-command or even a work section within the command.
There are personalized coins that identify the presenter by billet and or name. Coins can also be used simply to make a statement or act as a memento or commemorative piece to remember an event like the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.
"The coins are important because it helps instill a sense of camaraderie among the troops," said Sgt. Manny Trindade, Marines Magazine editor, Marine Corps News Washington, D.C. "There are countless traditions associated with the coins."
Receiving a coin is a way to help bring a Marine closer to the true spirit of the Corps.
"As a small award, they promote achievement and can be an impromptu way to reward Marines instantly and without the paperwork," said Cpl. Giles Isham, Combat Visual Information Center production chief. "Receiving a coin inspires me to achieve something higher. Even though the coin is a small token of a job well done, it can also be a morale booster to the Marine who receives it. It is an incentive for other Marines to work harder for a coin of their own."
The coins mean almost as much to the service members receiving them as they do to those handing them out.
"Military coins really are something special," said White. "For them to just be passed out to everyone, like candy, would only diminish their meaning and personal value. Everyone should be very selective of who they give coins to."