When visiting a cemetery, many have wondered what the coins on the gravestones of soldiers mean. The practice is an ancient one that was revived during the Vietnam era, and it is a deep-felt method for service members to pay respects to fallen brothers and sisters.
Ancient Greek and Roman Times
In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans placed coins on their dead due to their belief. In Greek mythology, the coins would be used to pay the ferry to the underworld. The ferry would transport souls across the Styx River to the land of the dead.
If no payment were offered to Charon, the ferryman to the underworld, access across the river was denied. Next, the souls would be cursed to roam Styx’s banks for all eternity.
To prevent that from happening to loved ones, the Greeks would place coins on the eyes of the dead, whereas the Romans would place them in their mouths.
Modern American Military Tradition
The American tradition emulates some similarities with ancient beliefs, however, with significant changes. Instead of beliefs about the afterlife, the purpose of the modern American tradition is to pay respect.
The coins on gravestones of service members and veterans have distinct meanings, especially if a service member gave their life while serving their country.
Essentially, a coin left on top of the gravestone lets the family of the fallen know that someone else has visited the gravesite and paid respect.
The Coins On Gravestones and Their Meaning
Each coin has a different message, a different meaning.
Quarter: the fellow service member who left it was with the fallen soldier when they died.
Dime: the fellow service member who left it has served with the fallen soldier.
Nickel: the fellow service member who left it has trained with the fallen soldier.
Penny: the fellow service member who left it came to pay their respects, regardless if they knew the fallen soldier personally or not.
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