Rustler Editorial

Coins on the tombstone should be passed on to younger generation

Just before Memorial Day I typically do an editorial about coins left on tombstones.  It is a reminder for people to take the time to pay respect to the veterans. The coins don’t have to be done just on Memorial Day. They can be placed every time you visit a gravesite. 

This year just before the American Legion Post 29 service in Basin cemetery I placed pennies on the tombstones in the Veterans plot. When I was done the children of Rep. Nathan Winters asked why. Once I explained the reason for the coins, all three of them wanted to do the same. 

As they did, it reminded me of how important it is to pass these kinds of things down to the next generations. These kids were thrilled that they could show their respect to our veterans. If you don’t know about coins left on tombstones of veterans, here is the story behind it. 

These coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave 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 deceased soldier’s family that someone else has 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 in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the soldier when he was killed. 

According to tradition, the money left at graves in national cemeteries and state veterans 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 soldier’s family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the 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.

I didn’t know any of the soldiers listed on the tombstones I put the pennies on. I do know that when the families come by to visit those pennies must mean something to them. It sure meant a lot seeing five pennies on Dad’s veterans stone.  

They say a picture is worth a thousands words … in this case a penny is worth a thousand thank yous. 

— Barbara Anne Greene