As a line branch, the Infantry is assigned a single color for use in the hatbands on the service cap and the sleeve ornamentation on dress uniform jackets. Light Blue has been the color of the Infantry since 1902, but White is also used for the insignia, letters, and numbers that appear on Infantry unit guidons.


Soldiers serving in the Infantry branch have been given numerous nicknames over the decades, but almost all of them share two traits: They tend to go out of style and are replaced with new sobriquets, and it’s almost impossible to nail down precisely the inspiration for them in the first place. Case in point: Doughboy.

When the U.S. entered World War I, the cry went up that the “Yanks” were coming to join the fight, but this moniker that dated back to the Revolutionary War soon gave way to “Doughboy.” Today, Doughboy is the go-to phrase to refer to American Infantrymen who fought in World War I—but the terms predates that conflict by at least a century.

According to a well-researched essay at the Doughboy Center fittingly titled “The Origins of Doughboy,” British Soldiers and Sailors referred to fried flour dumplings (think doughnuts) as doughboys, and American Soldiers could well have heard the term and started using it as well. In America, on the other hand, a doughboy referred to a baker’s apprentice; it was used in the same manner as “dough-head,” i.e., a dull-witted person. (“Dough Boy” was also the name of the cabin steward in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, likely a reference to his pale complexion.)

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The first use of Doughboy as a reference to American Soldiers was during the Mexican-American War; accounts from diaries and recollections make it clear the term meant Infantrymen—and it wasn’t a term of respect. A dragoon named Samuel Chamberlain wrote that “No man of any spirit and ambition would join the ‘Doughboys’ and go afoot” (it should be noted that Chamberlain was later charged with desertion.

Doughboy Center editor Michael E. Hanlon notes there are four theories as to why the term came to be applied to Soldiers in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and up through the Civil War. One is what he dubs the “Baked Goods” theory: Infantrymen used flour quite a bit in cooking, sometimes fashioning it around their bayonets and holding it over a flame. Another is the “Button” hypothesis, which posits that the term came from the appearance of the buttons on Infantry uniforms, but this seems a bit far-fetched unless the person observing those buttons was mightily hungry at the time.

Another explanation is that Soldiers used a white clay, known as pipe clay,” to give their uniforms and belts a “polished” appearance, but the substance became doughy when it rained (made worse by dust and mud picked up by foot Soldiers). The final theory is that marching Soldiers became so coated in dust that they began to resemble the adobe buildings of the Southwest, and that “adobe” transmogrified into “doughboy.”

At the end of the day, though, these are theories and nothing more. But one thing is certain: the term “doughboy” not only ceased to be used after World War I, but also became indelibly associated with that particular war alone.

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