Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Tradition of Coining

Last Friday, I delivered the C. Everett Koop lecture at Dartmouth and after the lecture, Dr. Koop shook my hand and passed me a coin in his palm. The coin, pictured above, contains his official 3 Star Vice Admiral insignia as Surgeon General of the US. I thanked him for his support of healthcare IT and one of the Dartmouth professors explained the tradition of coining:

During World War I, American volunteers from all parts of the country joined newly formed flying squadrons in France. One of the lieutenants ordered bronze medallions struck. These medallions carried the squadron emblem and were given out to all squadron members.

On a flight shortly thereafter, the lieutenant's plane was downed behind German lines and he was immediately captured. The Germans took all of his personal identification except for the bronze medallion which he wore in a small leather pouch around his neck. He was taken to a small town near the front. Bombardment was heavy that night, he escaped his captors, but without his identification. He made his way to the front lines avoiding German patrols. Eventually, he managed to find a French outpost. Unfortunately for him, the French in that area had been plagued by sabotage. The French were ready to execute him as a spy when he remembered the leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to them and they recognized the squadron insignia on it. His medallion bought him enough time to confirm his identity. Now instead of shooting the young lieutenant, they gave him a bottle of wine.

When he was returned to his squadron and his companions heard his story, it became a tradition to ensure that all members carried their medallion at all times. To ensure that each member carried their coins, they instituted the "challenge". A challenger would ask to see your coin. If you couldn't produce your coin, you were required to buy a drink, but if you produced your coin, the challenging member was required to pay for both your drinks.

The coin is a unique way of recognizing service and building camaraderie.

Dr. Koop is an amazing guy. He's 91 years old and is still a very active academician and public servant. I really appreciated his introduction of me at Dartmouth. He said that if I had never been born, the earth would have continued to turn, however, there's a chance it may have turned a bit more slowly. I'm honored and will proudly carry his coin.