Black Belt Coin
The following history of the American Chung Do Kwan Black Belt coin was told by Nathan Thern, a 2nd Dan and member of the USAF.
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 mid-term to join the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in 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, the 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 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-mans-land. Eventually, he stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French in the 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 German saboteur, and made ready to execute him. Just in time, he remembered his leather 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 at his squadron, it became a tradition to insure 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 challenged member could not produce his coin, he was required to purchase a drink 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.
The tradition was lost to the Air Force for more than fifty years. In part, this was due to the high cost of coinage and the difficulty of creating special medallions. In the late seventies, a weapons systems operator flying fighter aircraft in one of the reserve components uncovered this story while doing a paper at Air Command and Staff College. On completing his studies, he brought the tradition back to his squadron. Modern technology
enabled high quality casting of the squadron insignia at a reasonable cost. The practice spread rapidly, first to fighter squadrons throughout both active duty and reserve components, and then to other military units throughout the Air Force. We are proud to continue this tradition.