Salute the Dedication and Service of Military Personnel with a SPC Ross A. McGinnis Challenge Coin

Joanne Bauer

Joanne Bauer

Published December 4, 2012 5:30 am
Salute the Dedication and Service of Military Personnel with a SPC Ross A. McGinnis Challenge Coin

On December 4, 2006, while on duty in Baghdad, Iraq, Ross A. McGinnis used his body to smother a grenade, saving the lives of four fellow soldiers. McGinnis died from the blast. Ross’s patriotism and sacrifice has earned him a Purple Heart, Silver Star for Valor, and the nation’s highest honor, The Congressional Medal of Honor.

(Ross McGinnis’ parents, Tom and Romayne, pictured left.)

Ross’s father, Tom McGinnis, designed the McGinnis Challenge Coin to honor Ross and to help Keystone SMILES Americorps continue assisting service-minded students in obtaining their education.

McGinnis Challenge Coin


History of the Challenge Coin

There are several theories on the origin of the Challenge Coin. Below are the two most popular ones:

World War I Theory

During World War I, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. In one such squadron, a rich lieutenant distributed solid bronze medallions with the squadron emblem to each member of his unit. He carried his medallion in a pouch around his neck. Soon afterwards, his aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire, and he was forced to land behind enemy lines. He was immediately captured by a German patrol. To prevent him from escaping, the Germans took his uniform and all personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck, not realizing its significance.

Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, the lieutenant escaped; however, he had no personal identification. He succeeded in avoiding German patrols and reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man’s land, but he eventually stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French in his sector had been plagued by saboteurs who sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot’s American accent, and without any form of identification, the French thought he was a saboteur and were going to execute him.

The lieutenant remembered the coin in his leather pouch and showed it to his captors. They recognized the symbol on the coin and delayed the execution long enough to confirm his identity. Instead of executing him, they shared a bottle of wine with him. His coin saved his life.

World War II Theory

This theory dates the challenge coin to the Second World War and was first used by the Office of Strategic Service personnel (special ops) who were deployed in Nazi-held France. Special Ops used local coins as authentication during private meetings to help verify a person’s identity. There would be specific requirements such as type and date of coin that were set for each meeting. This helped prevent infiltration into the meeting by a spy who would need to have advance knowledge of the meeting’s time and place, as well as, which coin was to be presented.

Challenge Coin as a Military Tradition

Even though the history of the challenge coin is rather ambiguous, it is a military tradition to recognize achievement, create incentive, improve safety, or show appreciation for duty, dedication, or a job well done. Bestowing an active soldier, veteran or any other member of the military with a unique and beautifully detailed coin is truly commemorative of their commitment to their country and fellow citizens.

McGinnis Challenge Coin

Front & Back

A person can acquire a Ross A. McGinnis Medal of Honor Challenge Coin by contributing to the SPC Ross A. McGinnis Service Award Scholarship fund through Keystone SMILES Americorps, a National Program dedicated to making a difference in our communities through intensive service to meet our country’s critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. Keystone SMILES has set up a PayPal page that allows people to purchase coins online. To purchase a coin, visit

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