Posted: November 30, 2022
It started with retired United States Army Reserve Ambassador Jim Sherman and retired United States Air Force Brigadier General Gary Hahn, and the challenge coins they created to honor fellow veterans at the Holly Creek Life Plan Community in Centennial.
It culminated on Veterans Day, November 11, 2022 at a banquet attended by more than 100 people honoring not just the 62 veterans who call Holly Creek home, but also the spouses of veterans no longer with us and staff members who served. All received newly minted Holly Creek challenge coins to commemorate their service to our county.
What is the history of the challenge coin? That depends on who you ask or what you Google. Some say the tradition goes back to an American Army pilot in WWI who made a coin and gave it to his squadron. Others point the genesis to WWII France, where a challenge coin medallion was used to identify personnel working for the Office of Strategic Service and junior officers of the US 107th Infantry – to root out spies trying to infiltrate their meetings.
Others argue the tradition started in Vietnam, when US Army infantry-run bars tried to keep non-infantrymen away by forcing “outsiders” who didn’t have combat experience to buy drinks. The “proof” was a challenge coin emblazoned with their respective unit’s insignia. If a visitor to the bar was “challenged” to produce a coin proving combat experience and couldn’t, the visitor had to buy a drink for the challenger. If the visitor produced a challenge coin, then the person who issued the challenge bought the drink.
Although it remains to be seen if Holly Creek’s challenge coins will be used to get free drinks, what is known is all Holly Creek veterans, spouses and staff appreciated receiving the challenge coin. At last count, approximately 62 residents served, including husband and wife Lavon and Robert Starr, who both served in the Army between the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“It’s important to remember were it not for our veterans, we wouldn’t have our freedom,” remarked Lavon. “Robert and I look back to our time in the Army with fondness. Yes, it was difficult at times, but the experiences and knowledge we gained during that time is very special.”
Veterans Phyllis and Reginald Holmes served in the Navy Reserves. Reginald from 1954 to 1962 and Phyllis from 1959 to 1961. Phyllis was a WAVE, part of the Navy’s engineering corps responsible for tearing down decommissioned naval bases, which was happening a lot during this time. The couple are coming up on their 65th wedding anniversary.
“We both enjoyed our experiences in the Navy and it allowed me to visit many places across the country,” said Reginald.
Veteran Jane Walker served with her twin sister in WWII in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), caring for soldiers wounded in the South Pacific theater.
“We were both WACs and cared for soldiers injured during the island-hopping campaign. I was in the Philippines and witnessed General Douglas MacArthur coming back to fulfill his promise, “I shall return.””
The veterans of Holly Creek and their spouses are not only united by a history of military service, but they are also now united by a simple challenge coin, unique to their community and proof of their commitment to freedom.
The Holly Creek community is honored to have been home to many veterans throughout the years, including codebreaker Nancy Tipton and Navy veteran Roy Christensen, who both served in WWII, and Navy pilot Jerry Detwiler who served in the Korean War. We encourage you to read their stories of bravery and devotion, which can be found at the links above and in the blog posts below.