Friday, October 14, 2011

Beach Bling: Collections

Thomas Kincaid's imaginary cottage by the sea

           If you’ve ever visited the home of someone who’s served in the military you’ve undoubtedly seen a “Me Wall.”  That’s the one wall the spouse relegates all the plaques, awards, gags, doohickeys, falderal and other flotsam and jetsam given when someone departs a duty station.  So needless to say, in my cottage by the sea (after I win the lottery), there will be a Me Wall for my husband.  And if this writing gig goes well, I might even get a Me, Too! Wall somewhere.  One can dream…
 Anyway, back to my post.  On display somewhere on the wall I plan to display the command coins my husband has amassed during his tenure in the Navy.  A command coin is a small--maybe two inches round but surprisingly heavy--coin that military personnel collect the way your grandmothers collected magnets or spoons from every state she visited.   Every ship has a coin, usually with a picture or silhouette of the ship on one side and the motto or ship’s crest on the other. While each is unique and interesting to look at, it’s the story behind the command coin story that I find so interesting.  So if you will indulge me just a few minutes of maritime history and lore here… 

          During times in ancient Rome, they had a custom of placing a gold coin in the mouth of the dead to pay their way to Charon (the ferryman) for transportation across the River Styx (the boundary between Earth and the underworld.)   When the superstitious Romans built a ship, they placed a gold coin under the base of the mast, thus paying the fare of all hands should the ship ever perish.
          Gold is no longer sealed beneath the main mast, but good luck pieces are still welded under the radar mast of modern U.S. Navy ships.  The “good luck” pieces include the Command Coins.  I’m sure you don’t believe that the 21st century United States Navy still holds with such superstition, so CLICK HERE to be takent to a Wikipedia article that shows a picture of ADM Mike Mullen adding good luck pieces to a box during the mast-stepping ceremony for the USS DEWEY (DDG-105) in 2009: 
          Needless to say, with the price of gold as high as it is and the military budget stretched so thin, command coins are not made of gold.  So you are probably asking yourself, “How did we get from gold coins to command coins as tokens of good luck?”  That story is a little bit longer, but I’ll condense it as much as possible.
          A young, wealthy Air Cadet (now the U. S. Air Force) in WWI had small coins struck with the unit insignia and gave them to his fellow air cadets as a memento for the time they served together.  One of those pilots carried that coin with him on an unsuccessful mission during which he was forced to land in enemy territory where he was captured by the Germans.  Before he could be transferred to a POW camp, the British bombed the town.  In the ensuing confusion, the pilot escaped, only to be captured by the French.  In order to prove he was NOT a German saboteur, the pilot showed his coin bearing the insignia of his Air Cadet unit, and was thus spared immediate beheading.
          Upon his safe return to his unit, it became a tradition for a pilot to carry his unit coin on his person wherever he went.  When “challenged” in a bar to produce the coin, the pilot was required to do so, or be forced to buy a round of drinks for all the patrons.  This tradition, in some form or another, is alive and well in today’s military. 
          Such “challenge” coins were not only a connection to one’s unit but are synonymous with Good Luck.  The insignia coins spread to other units, other branches of service and even to non-military organizations.  In the Navy, each U.S. Navy ship has a unique ship’s coin. Every non-seagoing command has a coin, too, and there are coins for enlisted rates, ranks, and for various awards and badges.  Here’s an example of the one from the USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75):

          That's just one of many.  Here’s my husband's collection as it stands now:

Plenty of room for improvement on the display front, don't you think?   But they're at his office so I have no control…

I love collecting things.  I think I’m going to have a lot of collections in my cottage by the sea.  Sea glass, seashells, seahorses, starfish and maybe, if I can find any, a few mermaids/mermen.
And now I’m going to turn the blog over to you.  Leave a comment (if Blogger will let you) and tell us all what you collect.   

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