Walking into Ron Taylor’s office at Fort Hood National Bank, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the hundreds of coins on display.
Everyone who comes in the office comments on them, said the bank’s senior vice president.
“I’m truly blessed to have known as many people as I have,” he said.
The retired sergeant first class and current president of the Association of the United States Army Texas chapter, said he can still remember receiving his first coin more than 30 years ago as a young soldier in Korea during gunnery.
“It was like giving me a million dollars,” he said. “It meant a lot, and it still does. Commanders give out coins for doing something excellent. It’s always been an honor.
“I’ve got a lot, and it’s a true blessing.”
Challenge coins have become popular in the modern U.S. military, with most who receive them placing them proudly on display.
Those from the early years of popularity are simple coins — circular, bearing a unit crest and sometimes the rank or name of the person giving the coin. Over the years, they’ve grown more elaborate, with some shaped like soldiers or unit patches or even doubling as a bottle opener.
It’s said that you should always keep your best coin on you. At a bar, if you can out-rank another person’s coin, they have to buy you a drink.
Ivor McKay, a Copperas Cove resident, has military coins dating back to the 1950s. Now in his 90s, the retired lieutenant colonel said he’s received one from every 1st Cavalry Division commander since Gen. Robert Shoemaker led America’s First Team.
“I think about all of the people I’ve know,” McKay said of looking through the hundreds of coins he’s collected over the years. “It’s a lot of fine memories.”
While Jason Deckman, doesn’t have nearly the collection of Taylor or McKay, he values the coins he’s received during his nearly 20-year active and Reserve career.
“To me (each coin) is like a touchstone. Something you can look back on,” he said.
The Killeen resident said he can still remember like it was yesterday receiving a coin 13 years ago from a former battalion and later brigade command sergeant major like it was yesterday.
As a member of the 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division, Giessen, Germany, Deckman was sent to Normandy in 1999 as part of a joint color guard for the anniversary of the World War II battle.
The NCO was so pleased with Deckman’s performance on the color guard, he requested him to serve on several more, including for his change of responsibility.
“He said, ‘You earned this being my color guard dude. I kept calling you because I knew I could count on you.
I knew you’d set a good example for everybody,’” Deckman recalled. “He wasn’t the kind of guy that gave praise freely. He was real serious ... (and) taciturn.”
The coin wasn’t a traditional round one, it’s the shape of the engineer castle, and Deckman said it sits prominently displayed among his collection, near a Tobasco bottle filled with sand from Normandy.
“I don’t carry them around, because I don’t want them to get messed up,” he said.
While Taylor has a special place in his heart for coins from his former units — the 1st Cavalry Division and the 101st Airborne Division — it’s hard for him to nail down just which coins are his favorite.
“There’s a story behind every one,” he said.