SS CHALLENGE COINS - A patriotic beginning and legacy
(EXCELLO, MISSOURI) Toni Riekeberg of Macon brought Shelly Saxton (of Excello) to the Macon County Rotary meeting during the summer of 2018. There, Mrs. Saxton would deliver a presentation on her coin business that she operates from her house just Southeast of Excello, Missouri. We traveled to the house of Saxton’s a few months after in which we conducted an interview about the story and the business of SS Challenge Coins. By definition, a challenge coin is a small medallion or coin that is often created by an organization, group, etc. and is carried by members that belong/belonged to the group or organization. It is often used by members of the armed forces. In this instance, Shelly mainly creates challenge coins for major submarines in the United States Navy and other foreign Navies across the world.
In February of 2005, Shelly decided to get a unique gift for her dad who once served in the United States Navy - she wanted to custom make a challenge coin that represented each of the five submarines that her dad served on while in the Navy - those submarines were, USS Trumpetfish SS-425, USS Nathanael Greene SSBN-636, USS Jallao SS-368, USS Pollack SSN-603 and the USS Haddo SSN-604. Beginning the process in making the coins, Saxton quickly found out that she couldn’t just make five and order five. The coins arrived in large quantities, 100 coins per design. By the time she gave one of each to her dad and close family members, Saxton had well over 90 coines per design left over. “My dad recommended that I seek out the other members that served on the submarines with him and to give them the coins. There was no going back. I quickly found out there was a huge interest in this business. After contacting and finding other members that served with my dad, I headed to my first convention with 46 different styles of ballistic nuclear submarine challenge coins, one six foot table, and one tool box. Many veterans would start to question me to see if I knew what I was talking about. Now, through many other conventions and years later, I travel to numerous conventions, have twelve tables at each display, and I am featured among some of the biggest coin makers in the world,” stated Saxton. She went on to say that everyone calls her “The Coin Lady”’ now. Shelly makes every design of the coins by herself, pulling the designs and the logos from the patches that members would wear while on the submarine. The manufacture of the coins is in the United States and the coins are all hand painted and entirely made in the USA. Saxton also includes the final date of decommissioning on the challenge coins.
Besides making challenge coins for the United States, she also makes coins for a Russian Boat called the “Fox Trot” and a boat in the Royal English Navy. She has made numerous coins for churches, schools, and law enforcement groups around the country including a fire department in Texas. She was recently contracted by the United States Navy to do coins for the Navy school and their graduation. She’s made coins in remembrance of those who have lost their lives during the D-Day invasion (75 Year Anniversary) and several of her coins are sitting on a memorial reef in memory of those who have lost their lives serving on submarines in the United States Navy. Stated on Saxton’s website, “In Sarasota, Florida on 27 May 2018, the On Eternal Patrol Memorial Reef, the first and only undersea memorial to honor the submarines and their crews who remain on Eternal Patrol was dedicated. Since 1900, the United States has lost sixty-five (65) submarines which have gone On Eternal Patrol, taking with them more than 4,000 officers and crew. Additionally, the United States lost more than 230 military personnel in actions, accidents, and other events that did not result in the loss of the boat. The USS Scorpion SSN-589 lost 22 May 1968, is the last submarine the United States lost so, nearly 50 years to the day we lost her, it was an appropriate time to remember, honor and celebrate the history and sacrifice of the Silent Service. The On Eternal Patrol Reef is the first and only memorial dedicated to the entire submarine service in the environment in which these servicemen rest, the ocean. A total of 66 Eternal Reef have been placed on a site permitted explicitly for this purpose: the On Eternal Patrol Memorial Reef. Sixty-five memorial reef balls represent the American submarines and her crews that have gone on Eternal Patrol. The Sixty-sixth memorial ball honors those submariners lost in non-sinking events. In a brief period - less than ninety days - the On Eternal Patrol Memorial Reef will be teeming with new marine life and will remain forever as a living, growing ecosystem to honor the courageous submariners who made the ultimate sacrifice. We are forever grateful and will never forget.”
“The military is very important to me. I have a deep admiration and respect for those who have served this great nation. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for what I am doing now,” stated Saxton. Since the first convention she attended in the early 2000s, she has only missed one. Saxton recently traveled to the Caribbean and Mexico on a cruise displaying her coins at the annual convention (United States Submarine Veterans Inc (USSVI) she attends. Saxton fills her mailbox everyday with orders from across the world. Shelly was once a bus driver, but had to give that job up to keep pace with her “new career.” Saxton stated, “I don’t get a day off. I don’t get a vacation. Even if I am on vacation, I am constantly answering emails. Again, I love what I am doing. I always have requests and I have no intention on giving this up.”
Along with her inventory of well over 600 styles of coins, Saxton also creates and sells grave markers for fallen military personnel, veterans, etc. from all branches of the American Military. Her coins are featured in the Maritime Museum in San Diego, Pearl Harbor, and several others. Saxton also sells bracelets for cancer awareness and for ocean awareness with pollution that is impacting marine life - her efforts have resulted in well over 700,000 pounds of plastic and trash to be cleaned from oceans around the world.
From a business that started by wanting a simple gift for her father and more coins than she wanted, it has turned into a life that Saxton wouldn’t trade for anything. From five original coins, to 600 styles and many conventions later, Saxton is still filling out orders, keeping track of her inventory, and making sure those who gave some and those who gave all, are never forgotten. This article is dedicated to those that have died while serving our nation, to our veterans, and to those currently fighting while protecting the very freedoms that we enjoy here, in the United States of America.
Pictured is Shelly Saxton with her inventory of challenge coins located in the basement of her home in Excello.
To visit SS Challenge Coins online, please visit: http://www.silentservicechallengecoins.com/info.html
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