Sunday, February 8, 2009

Navy Retirement Ceremony for an old friend...

On Saturday morning I left the house a little after 7AM to make the drive to Naval Station Great Lakes. I went there to attend the retirement ceremony for on old friend and shipmate, Chief Warrant Officer Matt Lutz. Matt was retiring from the Navy following 29 years of active and reserve service. I first met Matt in 2005 when I assumed command of what was then Navy Reserve Center Chicago. His ceremony was going to be held on the Drill Deck of my former command, Navy Operational Support Center Chicago, so I was looking forward to seeing some old friends.

Matt was one of the engineering officers for a unit that drilled at the Center and his wife was one of my active duty staff members. I suppose that I had been sort of intertwined with the Lutz family even longer than that I first met because Matt's brother Chip in 2004 when Chip was a Reserve Center CO in Oklahoma. Chip went on to serve as the CO of Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center Milwaukee, and I attended Chip's retirement ceremony back in December, 2007.

The drive to Naval Station Great Lakes was, thankfully, uneventful. I told Matt that I would attend the ceremony, but if the weather was bad, I would most likely not attend. The drive along the western edges of Michigan and the northern edge of Indiana can be pretty sporty in the middle of winter. However, Saturday was the warmest day of the year so far as the temps were in the low 50s by mid-day. I arrived at Great Lakes a little before 11AM, so I had time to grab some lunch, catch up with some of the active duty staff who were there when I was CO, as well as to see a few of the drilling reservists who remembered me as well. It was good to see some former shipmates get a brief feel of the camaraderie I left behind when I retired from the Navy.

Matt's ceremony started promptly at 1300 (1PM for you civilians), and lasted about 45 minutes. Tales were told of his exploits, letters from former presidents and the current governor of Wisconsin were given to him. Matt was honored with the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal from his gaining command to recognize his efforts supporting it. Matt received a few gifts, and he gave out flowers to his Mom, wife and three female children. All in all, it was a great ceremony attended by over 60 people. Matt went out with style, as he had a personalized challenge coin minted for his special day. Matt walked up to me after the ceremony to thank me for making the drive to be there for him, extended his hand and presented me with his coin.

As I get further and further away from my retirement date from the Navy, the chances for me to be presented a coin dwindle with each passing day, so this was a special presentation for me. Matt's coin (and it is pretty darn sharp!) might be the last one ever presented to me. Like Matt, I had a coin made to commemorate my retirement from the Navy. For readers of this blog who might have one of my coins, I thought it might be a good time to review the history and basic rules regarding military challenge coins:

The U.S. Military has a longstanding list of traditions. One of the lesser-known traditions is the Military Challenge or Unit coin. During World War I, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy scions attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in midterm to join the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze carrying the squadron emblem for every member of his squadron. He himself carried his medallion in a small leather sack about his neck.

Shortly after acquiring the medallions, this pilot's aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German Patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck. In the meantime, he was taken to a small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that night he donned civilian clothes and escaped. However, he was without personal identification.
He succeeded in avoiding German patrols and reached the front lines.

With great difficulty, he crossed no-man's land. Eventually, he stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French in this sector of the front had been plagued by saboteurs. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him. Just in time, he remembered his l
eather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners. His French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion and delayed long enough for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him, they gave him a bottle of wine.

Back with his squadron, it became a tradition to ensure that all members carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished through a challenge in the following manner, a challenger would ask to see the coin, If the challenger could not produce his coin, he was required to purchase a drink of choice for the member who had challenged him. If the challenged member produced his coin, then the challenging member was required to pay for the drink.
This tradition continued throughout the war and for many years after while surviving members of the squadron were still alive.

Among U.S. military units, the tradition is prevalent to carry some type of device which readily identifies unit members, past and present, and also provides the opportunity for an inspection of the unit's esprit de corps and purpose.
The military coin, minted in a number of metals, including sterling, is approximately 1 ½ to 2" in diameter. The coin carries the motto's or slogans of the particular unit manufacturing it. In addition to any official motto is usually a likeness of the unit flash or crest.

The actual history of the challenge initiated by one unit member to another by demanding to see his coin varies greatly. According to legend, the original coin check was done only by the senior person present, who did it for the sole purpose of ensuring each man's team spirit (in which case, all would be carrying a coin). The purpose of this drill was to check morale.

Nowadays this is primarily a dare, by extracting the coin and slamming it down onto the tabletop or tossing it to the floor. The loud "ping!" produced by the bounding coin is a challenge to all present to produce their coins, or end up buying a round of drinks. This method of the "coin check" is the most prevalent today.
There have been many attempts to established a set of rules for the coin challenge to ensure uniformity. Regardless of any "coin regulation," most prefer to carry their coins, not only to show their pride with their, but also to save money on drinks they may have to buy if caught without it.

So, following this review, I expect all of you carrying my coin, or any other military coin for that matter, to have it with you the next time we meet or you will be buying the first round!


Lisa said...

I have my coin and carry it proudly!

Your Change of Command and retirement ceremony was one of the most moving ceremonies I can recall attending. I was truly honored to be there.

All seriousness aside, however, how was the shopping? :-)


Paul's Blog said...

I was so happy that you were able to come to my retirement ceremony. It meant a lot to me to have you there.

Besides, we Irish do like to have a good party for just about any occasion!

The shopping at the Exchange was pretty good. Come visit again some time and you can pretend to be my spouse once more!


Lisa said...

A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do for discounted Dooney!