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Coins on a Gravestone: Here’s What That Means

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Have you ever seen a gravestone covered in coins? It’s not unusual while visiting a cemetery to see the stones covered in various amounts of money. So what’s that all about?

According to legend, the coins belong on the gravestones of U.S. military veterans. Visitors who wish to show their respect leave coins on the headstones in different amounts.

Leaving a penny simply means you visited and want to thank the veteran for their service. A nickel means you trained at boot camp with the deceased, while a dime suggests you served with him or her. Finally, a quarter signifies you were with the soldier when they passed away.

The origin of the tradition, like the meaning behind it, is still up for debate. But many people believe it started in America during the Vietnam war. America was having a crisis of conscience. Any discussion of the war usually devolved into a greater discussion about politics. Leaving a coin was a way to say you appreciate the soldier’s service while avoiding an inevitable uncomfortable conversation.

Just legend?

The grave of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas covered with coins.
The grave of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas covered with coins.

Of course, that’s the theory. In reality, leaving coins on grave stones in America dates back only to 2009. The money is usually collected and donated to the upkeep of the cemetery.

But humans have left artifacts and tributes at grave sites for thousands of years. During the Roman empire, fellow soldiers would insert a coin into the mouth of a fallen comrade to ensure they could cross the “River Styx” into the afterlife. Egyptians of note would often be entombed with various prize possessions, including coins and money.

However, one verifiable tradition is the leaving of “challenge coins” by fellow veterans. These coins usually contain the emblem of the deceased’s military company or unit, and fellow soldiers leave them to pay tribute.

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Coins on a Gravestone: Here’s What That Means