Ever see coins on a gravestone and wonder what they mean?

Leaving coins on the graves of our fallen beloved has been a practice for quite a long time. In Ancient Greece, they had a tradition of placing coins over the eyes or in the mouth of the dead, believing that they could use it as a payment to a ferryman of the Underworld named Charon to take them across the River Styx to the other side. There were claims that the Jewish burial practice did the same thing. Nowadays, leaving coins on tombstones is often associated with military practice.

Meaning of Each Denomination

Tombstone of Stephen Alonzo Jackson and his wife in the Sinking Springs Cemetery in Abingdon, VA. Eli Christman / Flickr

It is said that different coins left on the military headstones denote different meanings for the fallen comrade’s family, or even other visitors, to know that the person was not forgotten.

  • Leaving a penny simply indicates you’re honoring the dead in gratitude for their service.
  • A nickel means that you and the departed trained together at boot camp or basic training.
  • A dime signifies you served with them in some capacity.
  • Leaving a quarter means you were with the soldier when he died.

According to Eye Witness News’ website, “…the tradition became popular in the United States during the Vietnam War. It is believed it (leaving coins) was a way to show respect without getting into an uncomfortable political discussion about a war that was very controversial.”