Here’s What Coins Mean on Headstones in New England
I was catching up with a friend of mine and she mentioned that over Memorial Day Weekend, she visited her grandparents at their cemetery site. While she was there, she started chatting with a woman visiting her husband who passed away not long after he returned from Afghanistan. As they were chatting, the woman placed a quarter on his headstone. And that is where this article is coming from, because now I know why we see pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters on headstones.
While researching this, I discovered that there are traditions for military and non-military gravesites.
For gravesites of military men and women, this symbol of respect is used to honor our fallen heroes. It lets the deceased soldier’s family and friends know that someone was there to pay their respects. Apparently, this tradition of leaving coins with military men and women can be traced to as far back as the Roman Empire according to The Wounded Warrior Project, when soldiers would insert a coin into the mouth of the fallen to ensure they could cross the River Styx into the afterlife.
However, here in the United States, this practice was popularized during the Vietnam War as a way to show respect without actually reaching out to the family. This is because it was such a controversial war, so the coins were a way to say you appreciate the soldier's service while avoiding uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war.
Leaving a penny means you visited the soldier to pay your respects, a nickel means you trained at boot camp together, a dime means you served with the soldier, and a quarter means you were with them when they passed away.
For non-military headstones, VC News says that a penny means you're paying your respect, a nickel means you went to school together, a dime means you worked together, and a quarter means you were with them when they passed away.
The coins are collected by the cemetery at the end of each month and used for cemetery maintenance, the cost of burial for soldiers, or the care for indigent soldiers.