If You See Coins On A Grave, Please Don’t Touch Them, It’s Code For Something Very Special
Through the ages, visitors to cemeteries have left a token of remembrance or respect at the gravesite of the deceased – flowers for a loved one, a favorite toy for a child, wreaths at Christmastime – cigars are even left at Al Capone’s grave at Mount Carmel Cemetery outside Chicago.
Jewish custom is to leave stones on graves rather than flowers, because whereas flowers wither, stones remain a reminder that someone has visited the site.
Military cemeteries bear witness to another kind of tribute, the “Coin Salute” – coins left on the headstones of fallen soldiers.
The practice, which is not an official custom of the military, but rather a tradition passed down among servicemen from generation to generation, deeply rooted in the camaraderie of brothers in arms.
The coins also have their own secret language to convey the relationship between the visitor and the fallen soldier.
Groundskeepers understand and respect the special, symbolic language of the coins, says Scott Lamb of Rock Island National Cemetery in Illinois where 32,000 veterans are buried. “ “We find many, many coins on the burial markers of the military. They are sentimental things.”
“The meaning depends on the denomination of the coin. It’s a message to the deceased service person’s family that someone was there and that someone cared.”
According to tradition among servicemen, a single penny left means someone has visited the grave to pay their respects, which in itself is a comfort to the family of the deceased.
Leaving a nickel indicates that the visitor was at boot camp with the deceased; a dime is left by someone who served with them.
Even more significant is a quarter, as it is only to be left by someone who was present when the soldier died.
Various explanations are offered as to the origin of the tradition dating back to the mythology of the ancient Greeks who believed that the deceased needed coins to pay for passage across the River Styx and Roman legionnaires who wanted to give a war buddy spending money in the hereafter or as a promise of a future drink together, through World War II and the Vietnam War era when fellow veterans wanted to show respect without drawing attention during a controversial and unpopular war.