Coins Placed on a Soldier’s Gravestone
Last Sunday in the cold winter weather with a light dusting of snow on the ground, I traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a photoshoot.
Right before Christmas, at the request of a friend, I photographed a family friend’s tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery. After our FaceBook conversation of the shots, two more friends requested photographs of their family member stones at the National Cemetery. With honor I accepted to shoot the stones and wanted to take the photographs before the Christmas wreaths were removed, hence why I was there in the 20 degree weather.
I once wore the soldiers uniform. I served in the Maryland Army National Guard. I never served active duty during wartime. However, I feel a special camaraderie with those that did serve. The more I think about and reflect on how I feel in the presence of those who served, I would have to say it is more respect, pride, admiration and an understanding of appreciation for how much those who served gave and a special reverence for those who gave all of themselves for our country.
If my skills as a photographer can be used to pay honor to those who served, it is the least I can do and a little cold weather is hardly an inconvenience.
Bundled in my Carhartts and with the camera on the tripod, I count the numbers on the stones and found the first gravestone. Sitting on top of the very stone I am there to photograph laid three coins. One quarter and two dimes reflect the afternoon sun. I understand the message, get on one knee and say a prayer.
According to Snopes.com the ledgend goes:
A coin left on a headstone or at the grave site 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.
Snopes goes on to state that the earliest reference they can find regarding the ‘tradition’ of soldiers leaving varying denominations of coins to denote their relationship with the deceased on the headstones of fallen comrades dates only to June 2009, when it appeared as a web site post. The version now commonly circulated in e-mail appears to have been drawn from it, albeit some changes have slipped in.
I continued my web search on the subject and come away believing that while this tradition may have started sometime after the Vietnam war, the internet helped to pass the word and in essence help in the creating of this tradition.
My research revealed that the placing of coins or other objects on gravestones has been going on since the beginning of time in one form or another, and in part this is a continuation of such. However the particular meaning of each denomination of coin is a relatively new phenomenon.
Whether the placing of coins on soldier’s gravestones began last year or last century is of little significance in my mind. It is a tradition of respect and honor, one that caught me off guard; I was there to do a job but was quickly reminded of the sacrifices those whom I photographed had made for me, you, and all americans.