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Coins on tombstones, an American tradition that has gradually taken root in Canada

Denomination of coin can show relationship to fallen soldier
Placing coins on gravestones is a practice that is believed to have started during the Vietnam War. (Black Press Media file photo)

Katrina Leslie/Black Press Media

Have you ever wandered through a military cemetery and noticed coins on some of the gravestones? It has become a silent message of support to the fallen soldier’s family.

A penny to show you have visited. A nickel if you and the deceased trained at boot camp together. A dime if you served with the deceased in any capacity. A quarter if you were with the soldier when they were killed.

That is the most widely understood version of what each coin domination means when placed on a gravestone. The tradition, like many old traditions, has had its roots worn away over the years and the meanings seem to vary slightly depending on who you ask.

The specific practice of leaving certain denominations of coins as a message to the fallen soldier’s family can be loosely traced to the Vietnam War. When some claim political divide over the war made it uncomfortable or inappropriate to visit the family of the deceased. So instead, the coins became a way to show the fallen soldier’s family that you had visited their grave and how you had known them before they died. At some point, it seems the ritual spread up across the border and cemetery caretakers across Canada and even locally in Victoria can confirm that they have seen coins left on gravestones around Greater Victoria.

Aside from specific singular coins being left behind, other traditions have popped up in history such as leaving coins as a symbolic gesture of buying a round for a fallen comrade. Even as far back as ancient Greece, it seems coins have played a part in remembering and honouring the dead, though back then burying coins with the deceased or leaving coins at gravesites was a grieving family’s way to ensure their loved ones would be safely ferried across the river Styx and into the afterlife.

So, while not as widely practised as leaving other offerings at gravestones and memorials in honour of the deceased, the practice of leaving coins on veterans’ graves has been going on quietly for many years in North America and continues to spread.

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About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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