Most, if not all of us have been to the cemetery to pay our respects to a family member or friend that has passed away. Normally we will bring some flowers, kneel down and say a prayer. But if you happen to see a coin on a gravestone, you need to know not to touch it.
Leaving coins on the headstones of those who served in the Military, especially those who died in combat, dates back at least as far as the Roman Empire.
The practice became especially popular in the United States during the Vietnam War because of the political climate throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Friends of those who died in combat left coins to let family members know that someone had visited the gravesite. Leaving a coin on the headstone was more practical than contacting the family and risk becoming involved in a discussion about the war.
Generally speaking, a visitor who did not know the deceased well enough to be considered a friend might leave a penny. Someone who went through boot camp or a training class with the deceased might leave a nickel. A friend who served in another platoon within the same company might leave a dime. A buddy who served in the same outfit, or was with the deceased when he died, might leave a quarter.
Some Vietnam Veterans left coins as a “down-payment” to purchase a beer or play a hand of poker when he was eventually re-united with his deceased buddy.
Today, the denomination of the coin left on the headstone has become less significant because so few people carry coins other than quarters.
The coins left on headstones within National Cemeteries and State Veterans Cemeteries are collected by cemetery staff from time to time and are used to maintain the grounds. Some cemeteries use the coins to help pay for the burial costs of indigent Veterans.