If you see coins on a military tombstone, do not take them

The history behind the tradition

AGAWAM, Mass. (WWLP) – 22News visited the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam on this Veterans Day night.

We found American flags waiving in the wind, and red white and blue carnations left along the gravestones of those we’ve lost. However, there’s a tradition you might not know about.

If you see coins on a military tombstone, that means a living soldier made a visit to pay their respects. According the Military Salute Project , “Leaving coins on the headstones of those who served in the Military, especially those who died in combat, dates back at least as far as the Roman Empire.”

The site says the practice became especially popular in the United States during the Vietnam War because of the political climate throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. Friends of those who died in combat left coins to let family members know that someone had visited the gravesite. Leaving a coin on the headstone was more practical than contacting the family and risk becoming involved in a discussion about the war.

Generally speaking, a visitor who did not know the deceased well enough to be considered a friend might leave a penny. Someone who went through boot camp or a training class with the deceased might leave a nickel. A friend who served in another platoon within the same company might leave a dime. A buddy who served in the same outfit, or was with the deceased when he died, might leave a quarter.

Some Vietnam Veterans left coins as a “down-payment” to purchase a beer or play a hand of poker when he was eventually re-united with his deceased buddy.

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