Have you ever noticed coins on a gravestone, and wondered why they were there? When a U.S. service member or loved one leaves a coin on a gravestone it has special significance. Though the meaning of this custom has changed over time, it’s a tradition with a long history. The idea of leaving coins with the departed dates back as far as the Greeks and Romans.
According to Greek mythology, the River Styx separates the living from the dead and Charon, the ferryman of Hades, will not carry your soul across without a payment. So unless you had a coin, your soul would be doomed to spend 100 years in solitude along the shore. This is why family members and loved ones would place coins in the mouths or over the eyes of the departed, in order to ensure safe passage into the afterlife.
Romans left coins of different denominations on graves. Each coin conveyed a different meaning. U.S. service members carried on the tradition after the Vietnam War. Soldiers used it as a way to communicate with their fallen comrade’s families without having to say a word. Since the politics surrounding the Vietnam War were so controversial, this nonverbal practice allowed soldiers to pay their respects without risking a debate with the family of the fallen. Each coin on a soldier’s grave tells a different story.
• Leaving a penny indicates that the person who left it knew them from military service.
• A nickel on the grave, means they trained in boot camp together.
• If you see a dime on a soldier’s grave, it signifies that the person who left it served in the same company as the deceased.
• The most meaningful of all the denominations is the quarter. The quarter left on a grave means they were with the soldier when they died.
A different meaning for one soldier leaving change on another soldier’s grave is what’s called a “down payment.” A down payment simply means that the soldier wanted to be sure to let their buddy know, that he will buy him a drink on the other side. The change is a way of saying he’s good for it. It’s common practice for the cemeteries to eventually pick up the change, and put it towards grave maintenance for less fortunate departed soldiers.
Liberty Coin & Currency specializes in rare coins and currency. We are a family owned business located in Portland and Vancouver. We also buy gold, silver, diamonds, and jewelry. Visit us first for a free evaluation.