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MILITARY: Meaning behind coins left on headstones

Letter by Linda M. Creasia, Spanaway on July 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm with 12 Comments »
July 5, 2012 1:50 pm

While visiting some cemeteries, you may notice that headstones marking certain graves have coins on them, left by previous visitors to the grave. These coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave their life while serving in America’s military, and these meanings vary depending on the denomination of coin.

A coin left on a headstone or at the grave site is meant as a message to the deceased soldier’s family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect. Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited.

A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means you served with them in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the solider when they were killed. According to tradition, the money left at graves in national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries is eventually collected and the funds put toward maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans.

In the U.S., this practice became common during the Vietnam War, due to the political divide in the country over the war; leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier’s family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war. Some leave coins as a “down payment” to buy their fallen comrades a beer when finally reunited.

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Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. Ortingmom says:

    Great letter with great info….I never knew

  2. Putting coins on graves goes a lot further back than VietNam war. Navy tradition in the Roman Empire was to put a coin on the grave and Greeks put coins on graves as a reminder of the tradition of Greek mythology that ahd coins on the eyes to assure passage to the Underworld.

    Benjamin Franklin’s grave as well as many other early graves have coins, mainly pennies, on them.

    I am a VietNam vet and visit many of my buddies’ graves and had never heard a specific coin value assigned to a sentiment, so I checked several vet websites and could not find any support or even any agreement on why coins are placed on graves.

    I’d love to find out where the letter writer gained her knowledge and share that with some of the veteran sites I go to.

  3. sumyungboi says:

    .. and then re-read the letter. I do appreciate this knowledge, though.

  4. beerBoy says:

    Gotta wonder if this goes way back to the tradition of leaving coins on the eyes of the deceased – with which they were to pay the boatman for the trip over the river Styx.

  5. My dad’s family always put a silver dollar in the bodies right hand.

  6. sumyungboi, thanks. It is interesting that eHow gives numerous answers to the question. I wonder where the “contributors” got their info? Here is one more, and there are several eHow answers to this question.

    http://www.ehow.com/facts_5241692_pennies-left-grave-markers_.html

    I talked to a funeral director where my wife is buried in Texas today and he had never heard of the specific denomination issue, either. He did say they collect them and the money goes for some indigent services, although not exclusively for veterans since it is not exclusively a veteran practice.

    I love mysteries like this. Obviously there is a tradition somewhere like this and a lot of people put coins on headstones and markers.

  7. harleyrider1 says:

    Thank-you Linda

  8. Here is another coin question for you all.

    Why do US Army Paratroopers Sew a silver dollar behind the round parachute insignia on their garrison caps?

  9. thoughtful1 says:

    Linda: Thanks for the insight. I love learning about the traditions of all of the “mini-cultures” in our society. Many blessings to all who serve our great country.

  10. MeDaMCSE says:

    It is tradition for a paratrooper to sew a silver dollar beneath the patch so he will always have money to purchase “the good things” in life (alcohol and a female’s favor) no matter where he travels.
    source: http://www.currahee.org/legacyPara.htm

  11. Now that I can believe. Thank You for sharing you knowledge and for a great web-page.

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