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Coins left on tombstones have deeper meaning for some

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Posted at 12:28 PM, May 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-25 14:16:52-04

If you're visiting cemeteries this Memorial Day, you may notice coins on certain headstones.

For some, these coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave their life while serving in America’s military, and these meanings vary depending on the denomination of coin, according to the American Legion Auxillary.

A coin left on a headstone or at the grave site is meant as a message to the deceased soldier’s family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect.

  • Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited.
  • Leaving a nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together.
  • Leaving a dime means you served together in some capacity.
  • Leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the soldier when they were killed.

While this tradition can be traced back for a variety of reasons to the Roman Empire, it became common practice during the Vietnam War.

The American Legion Auxiliary says "due to the political divide in the country over the war, leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier’s family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war."

Some Vietnam veterans would even leave coins as a “down payment” to buy their fallen comrades a beer or play a hand of cards when they would finally be reunited.