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Paying your respects

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While visiting the cemetery you may notice the headstones marking certain graves have coins on them left by previous visitors to the grave. These coins have distinct meaning when left on the headstones of those who have served or have given their life while serving in America’s military and these meanings vary depending on the denomination of coin.

A coin left on a headstone or at the gravesite  is meant as a message to the family that someone else visited the grave to pay respect. Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited. A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together while a dime means you served with him or her in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave you are telling the family that you were with the service member when he or she was killed.

According to tradition, the money left at graves in national cemeteries  and state veteran cemeteries is eventually collected and the funds are put toward  maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans.

In the US, this practice became common during the Vietnam War due to the political divide in the country over the war; leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the service member’s family which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to war.

Some Vietnam veterans would leave coins as a “down payment” to buy their fallen comrades a beer or play a hand of cards when they would finally be reunited.

The tradition of leaving coins on the headstones of military men and women can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire.

Submitted by Gene Rankin, Campbellsburg