Image via: facebook.com/Dave Malenfant
The national and state veterans cemeteries that dot America are special, sacred places. Burial there is reserved for the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives while serving in the military. If you’ve ever visited one of these veterans cemeteries before then you may have noticed coins left atop the stone markers, and if you are not in the military then you likely wondered what it all means.
Coins that have been left on or around gravestones indicate that someone stopped by to visit and pay their respects to the deceased buried there. Pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters are each representative of different meanings. Depending on the denomination, the presence of each type of coin sends its own distinct message, but they all tell the soldier’s family and loved ones that someone stopped by.
Leaving a penny atop a grave means that someone visited to pay their respect, while nickels are left to signify the visitor trained at boot camp with the deceased. Leaving a dime at a grave means the visitor served with them at some point or in some capacity. A quarter left on a stone marker is symbolic of the fact that whoever left it was with the soldier when they were killed.
While the practice of leaving coins on military graves dates back to the Roman Empire, it’s a relatively recent occurrence here in America. It began in the mid 1960s when people started leaving coins at cemeteries during the Vietnam war as a way to show that they had visited a soldier’s grave. At that time the country was torn and divided by the hugely unpopular war. Rather than contacting a soldier’s family directly, and risking either upsetting or getting into an argument with them, visitors chose to simply leave coins to communicate the fact they’d been there.
The tradition has been carried on over the years and it’s proven to be beneficial for everyone. At national and state veteran cemeteries the coins are collected annually and the money is used to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the grounds. Some of it goes toward paying and covering the burial costs of indigent veterans. Visitors are able to pay their respect and let the deceased’s family know that they stopped by. Memories are shared, healing occurs, and people feel better about the past. All of this is possible with the simple act of marking your remembrance with a coin, and that’s beautiful.
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