NewsHonoring Our Fallen: Memorial Day 2022

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Paying tribute: The meaning behind coins on military headstones

Coins on headstone in veterans cemetery
Posted at 4:11 PM, May 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-30 20:11:20-04

KILLEEN, Texas — At the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen, you'll find thousands of names and thousands of stories.

In the days leading up to Memorial Day, Marty Martinez and Guadalupe Lopez sat on a bench looking out into a sea of headstones, each representing a fallen soldier or a late veteran. They exchanged stories of their time serving in Vietnam.

"As we say, 'Where did the years go?'" said Martinez, speaking of his 40-year friendship with Lopez.

Their service overseas was marked by brotherhood, but also by tragedy.

"An individual that was next to me in a firefight got killed," Martinez said. "This is why it is a very special day for me. Because of what happened to this friend of mine."

"I remember vividly, walking out toward the chopper and I was hollering 'Hey captain! Your weapon! Your weapon!'" retired Sgt. Maj. Lopez said. "10, 15 minutes later, we got the call that the chopper went down."

Lopez said he doesn't like to speak much of the fellow service members he lost in war. He's since turned his grief into reverence, serving as the chairperson of the Area Veterans Advisory Committee and overseeing the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery's Memorial Day ceremony.

"I love to honor everybody that passed away," he said.

Memorial Day is a day to celebrate those heroes through ceremony and tradition. One of those traditions has origins dating back to the Romans and became popularized during the Vietnam War.

Coins left on headstones tell families someone was there to pay their respects. A penny lets the family know someone stopped by to visit. A nickel is typically left behind by someone who completed training with them. A dime is left by someone who served alongside the soldier. Finally, a quarter is left behind by someone who was there when they died.

"We like to leave something, and of course, flowers were not something you could leave there, because they would disappear," Lopez explained.

The coins are just one way of keeping the memories of fallen soldiers alive, like the memories of the ultimate sacrifices that Lopez and Martinez witnessed with their own eyes.