The last Monday in May, Memorial Day, is set aside in the United States to honor the men and women who have given their lives for this nation while serving in the military. On that day the flag is briskly raised to the top of the flagstaff, then solemnly lowered to half-staff where it remains until noon. At noon the flag is again raised to the top, where it remains for the rest of the day.

The half-staff position is in remembrance of the more than one million men and women who have given their lives in service to the United States of America. The return to full-staff symbolizes the nation that lives and the resolve to not let those lives be lost in vain but to continue to fight for liberty and justice for all.

We learned those things as children. But I was today years old when I learned the significance of the coins that are frequently left on the headstones of fallen friends.

These coins carry great significance to those who placed them there and the families of the one who passed away.

The Penny

A penny will frequently be left on the headstone to indicate that you visited their grave and to thank them for their service. This can be done for a friend, family member, or anyone who simply wants to show respect.

The Nickel

When someone leaves a nickel on the headstone it indicates that they actually knew the person and went through boot camp with them but may not have spent any other time in the service with them.

The Dime

A dime will be left by someone who actually served with the person at one or more duty stations throughout the course of their military career.

The Quarter

And finally, leaving a quarter on the headstone symbolizes that the person who left it was actually with the person when they passed away.

While the tradition of leaving a coin on a headstone is more common on or around Memorial Day it can be done any time of the year. These coins bear special significance to those who leave them and signify to the family of the fallen soldier that a friend has been by to visit.

While this tradition of leaving coins on headstones has been around for a long time it picked up more popularity and significance during and shortly after the war in Vietnam. At a time when simply mentioning that war could lead to a heated political debate, the simple act of leaving a small coin on a friend's grave was an uncomplicated way to show respect for a fallen friend.

leekris / ThinkStock
leekris / ThinkStock

The coins are sometimes collected by the family or the caretakers of the cemetery and used for maintenance and upkeep.

Memorial Day will be celebrated on Monday, May 31st, this year. While you enjoy your day off, remember to think about those who gave all so we could live in freedom.

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