LIMA — Bob Schaefer never would’ve started collecting the unique medallions if it weren’t for the Roll of Valor exhibit at the Allen County Museum.
Schaefer, a Marine from 1968 to 1972 who later worked as a postal carrier in Lima, attended the opening of the museum’s exhibit honoring military bravery 10 years ago to the day on Friday. The exhibit honors all Medal of Honor recipients but specifically focuses on two from Allen County, Leonard F. Mason and William E. Metzger Jr.
That’s when Schaefer met Hershel “Woody” Williams, who later sent him a “challenge coin,” a military tradition passed among military men with customized images to show their pride in the military divisions in which they served.
“That was my first coin,” Schaefer said. “I started out sending them a coin of mine with a letter, and they sent one back in a prepaid envelope. … It was like Christmas any time one came. I’d run back from the mailbox and open it up to see who it was from.”
Now Schaefer’s collection of challenge coins from Medal of Honor recipients is on display at the Allen County Museum through Jan. 6, to mark the 10th anniversary of the permanent addition of Mason and Metzger memorabilia at the museum. That display includes both Mason’s and Metzger’s authentic Medals of Honor. Both lost their lives in World War II.
“The trick is when you have a significant artifact like that and a really memorable story is what do you do to keep this in people’s minds,” said Larry Huffman, a Lima attorney and history aficionado. “That’s what the mission of this museum is all about, is reminding people of history.”
There are 35 challenge coins in a shadow box on display between the displays for Mason and Metzger at the museum. Schaefer contacted all 68 living Medal of Honor winners, receiving 12 back.
He also has coins for eight deceased recipients. For instance, the family of Kenton’s Jacob Parrott, the first Medal of Honor recipient and a member of Andrews’ Raiders, also shared a challenge coin.
One notable coin was for Desmond Doss, a combat medic who was a conscientious objector and wouldn’t carry a weapon whose story was told in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Another was from Sammy L. Davis, whose real-life ceremony with President Lyndon Johnson is seen in the movie “Forrest Gump,” with star Tom Hanks’ face imposed overtop his.
“These men who wear these Congressional Medal of Honor ribbons, they never say ‘I,’” Schaefer said. “It’s always ‘them.’ ‘I wear it for them. I represent them because I could come back.’ They’re a very, very, very well-disciplined group of men dedicated to their country.”