“Doughboy” and “G.I.” Explained

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

The term “Doughboy” has been part and parcel of the American scene for almost a century.  The term “G.I.” dates back some seventy-five years.  Buster Keaton, in 1930, starred in the movie Doughboys, about soldiers during World War I.  A popular song in 1942 was Johnny Doughboy found a rose in Ireland, performed by Kay Kyser and Sammy Kaye, among others.  G.I. Jive, a song written and originally performed by Johnny Mercer hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade in 1944 and later that year, performed by Louis Jordan, made it to number one on both the Harlem Hit Parade and the pop chart. The song begins:

This is the G.I. Jive, man alive,
It starts with the bugler blowin’ reveille
over your bed when you arrive.
Jack, that’s the G.I. Jive

In the 1960 movie G.I. Blues, Elvis Presley sung a song with the same title, which included the lyrics:

 I’ve got those hup, two, three, four
occupation G.I. Blues
From my G.I. hair to the heels of my G.I. shoes
And if I don’t go stateside soon
I’m gonna blow my fuse

The terms “Doughboy” and “G.I.” have been variously defined (see Wikipedia for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GI_(term) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doughboy ). Generally the former refers to American military personnel (especially U.S. Army) during World War I while the latter usually refers to American soldiers since the 1940s.

In looking for something relating to the Berlin Museum Masterpieces exhibit in the United States after World War II, I stumbled across a 1946 Army response to an inquiry regarding the two terms.  The letter was from the Army Adjutant General to a private citizen who had initially written the Treasury Department on October 25, 1946, asking for an explanation of the differences of meanings of the terms “Doughboys” and “G.I.”  The response provides the Army’s view on the meaning and origins of the two terms. The letter is contained in File 000.4 Central Decimal Correspondence Files, 1946-1948 (National Archives Identifier 6626121), Record Group 407.