Frequently Asked Reference Questions

Military Trivia

Questions that can be answered by this FAQ:

  • Why were WWI infantry called “doughboys”?
  • What is the origin of the 21-gun salute?
  • What does the “D” in D-Day stand for?
  • How far is a klick?

Q: Why were WWI infantry called “doughboys”?

A: No one really knows the answer to this one, but there are a few theories on the subject, ranging from soldiers using pipe clay to whiten their uniform trimmings, to soldiers’ buttons which were large and globular (resembling doughnuts) , to being covered in adobe soil dust after long treks (the soldiers were initially addressed as “adobes,” then as “dobies,” and finally doughboys). The first known usage of the word for this meaning reportedly goes as far back as 1835. For more information, check out Why Were American Soldiers in WWI Called Doughboys? and Doughboy Center.

Q: What is the origin of the 21-gun salute?

A: Gun salutes are not a recent tradition. As early as the 14th century, cannons were fired on military occasions to demonstrate peaceful intentions. We know that warships later started firing 7-gun salutes (possibly because of the astrological/Biblical connotations of the number, although no one knows for sure). The history of how this finally morphed into a 21-gun salute that is still used today is equally vague, and involves theories about the increased supplies of gunpowder and the ancient significance of the number 3. You can read more about this topic on the following page:

Today, the 21-gun salute is fired to honor a national flag, a reigning royal family’s member, a foreign nation’s chief of state or sovereign as well as the president-elect, president, and ex-presidents of the U.S. It is also fired at noon on Independence Day, Memorial Day, President’s Day, George Washington’s birthday as well as on the funeral day of a president-elect, president, or ex-president.

Q: What does the “D” in D-Day stand for?

A: As odd as it sounds, the “D” in D-Day is merely meant to designate the “day” of the invasion. It is used in combat operations where the day needs to be secret (as in the most famous D-Day, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944) or when the day has not yet been determined. For more information, visit the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s FAQ, What does the “D” signify in D-Day, and the “H” signify in H-Hour?

Q: How far is a klick?

A: In many military-related movies and television shows, characters describe distances in terms of “klicks,” causing many people to wonder what a “klick” (also sometimes spelled “click,” “klik,” or “clic”) is. This term is shorthand/slang for a “kilometer,” or 0.62 miles. We found the definition of military click in several online glossaries, including the Merriam Webster dictionary  and this Language of War page from the PBS website for their “Vietnam: A Television History” program.

Finally, it is also worth noting that the book War Slang by Paul Dickson (London: Pocket Books, 1994) indicates that “klick” originated in the Vietnam war, and also gives a second definition as “a short distance.”
That said, the jury is still out on the origin of the term. Some researchers advocate that using klick as a measure of distance began during the Vietnam War; some others say it began as long ago as World War I. Irrespective of when the use of military click as a unit of distance began, a NATO mandate post WWII required a common measuring unit (which ended up being kilometers) to be used by all countries for military planning.