It’s so much more than the kick-off to summer. Memorial Day – observed each year on the last Monday in May – is a tribute to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. It’s a day to reflect upon and honor all those who have died while serving in the U.S. military.
The history behind the holiday
The start to Memorial Day can be traced back to the end of the Civil War. In the late 1860s, citizens began leaving tributes to the fallen soldiers in various towns around the nation. It was on May 5, 1868 that the first official “Decoration Day” – held in Waterloo, NY – was proclaimed by General John A. Logan. He stated that,
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
For decades, Decoration Day was held on May 30 each year to remember those lost during the Civil War. But following World War I, the holiday was renamed Memorial Day, with its emphasis shifting to honor all those lost while serving in American wars. Finally, in 1971, Congress’ Uniform Monday Holiday Act established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May.
Giving a coin salute on Memorial Day
Each Memorial Day, many people visit the graves of loved ones who have served. Some even leave gifts or tokens of appreciation. But sometimes, among the flowers, candles, medals and photographs, you’ll find coins stacked on a grave stone. Have you ever wondered why?
It’s a little-known tradition for loved ones and those who served with the deceased to leave coins behind to let their family know someone visited. Plus, you can see the connection based on the denomination left behind! A penny indicates someone visited, a nickel means you were together at boot camp, a dime shows you served together and a quarter signifies you were with them when they died.
Today, many cemeteries gather the coins left on soldiers’ graves and use them to pay for burial of veterans in need, or for upkeep of the cemetery. Not only will you be paying your respects and reaching out to let someone in the family know you visited, but you’ll also be following a time-honored tradition.
Coinage tributes to those who have served
For collectors who choose to celebrate our servicemen and women, commemorative coins make a great choice. Since the early days of commemoratives, we’ve seen some meaningful designs that honor those who have served.
One of the earliest was a 1925 commemorative half dollar honoring the Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). Featuring a minuteman on the obverse, these coins are a tribute to the steadfast work of the soldiers who defended our nation’s freedom in its earliest years.
Jump forward several decades to the 1990s, and you’ll discover a wide variety of fitting commemorative designs. These include the 50th anniversary of World War II, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Women in Military Service. Each and every one of these issues can make touching gifts for those who served, and a fitting way to remember a loved one in the service.
Have you ever considered a numismatic gift for a loved one who’s served our country? If you were to – which design would you choose, and why?