Highland Park Celebrates Memorial Day and the Return of Doughboy to its Place of Honor

As the pandemic was raging last fall, many residents of Highland Park were unaware that a popular local landmark – the Doughboy statue – a tribute to American soldiers who fought in World War I, was knocked from its perch at the intersection of Raritan and Woodbridge Avenues. Tragically, its helmeted head was broken away from its body.

On October 16, 2020, the Doughboy statue was struck by a tractor trailer making a turn at that Raritan/Woodbridge intersection. On the morning of Monday, May 31, 2021, the Doughboy Statue stood fully repaired in all of its glory and fulfilled its pivotal role in the community’s Memorial Day commemorative ceremony.  At noon, Highland Park Borough, in conjunction with the Veterans Alliance of Raritan Valley, hosted a service that included a wreath-laying ceremony and a performance of Taps by a bugler at the Doughboy statue. Facing west toward New Brunswick, the statue in Highland Park was unveiled in front of about 2,000 people on Nov. 11, 1921.

The Doughboy – a slang term for a U.S. infantryman – stood sentinel for almost 99 years at the fork where Route 27 (Raritan Avenue) and Woodbridge Avenue (Sixth Avenue) diverge. The Doughboy has been the point of departure for the annual Highland Park/New Brunswick Memorial Day parade that concludes at Monument Square Park in New Brunswick. It has also been the point where VFW members and others gather to observe Veterans Day each fall. After the accident, Highland Park Council members pledged to return Doughboy to its place of honor in time for Memorial Day – and they succeeded in doing so.

The Spirit of the American Doughboy is a pressed copper sculpture by E. M. Viquesney, designed to honor the veterans and casualties of World War I. Mass-produced during the 1920s and 1930s for communities (including Highland Park, NJ) throughout the United States, the statue’s design was the most popular of its kind, spawning a wave of collectible miniatures and related memorabilia as well as numerous copies by other artists. Its title is often shortened to The Doughboy.

Many residents know that the term doughboy refers to a World War One  U.S. infantryman, and many know it is much revered in Highland Park. But what few know is how an infantryman became dubbed with such an odd moniker as doughboy.

According to one explanation, the term dates back to the Mexican War of 1846-48, when American infantrymen made long treks over dusty terrain, giving them the appearance of being covered in flour, or dough. As a variation of this account goes, the men were coated in the dust of adobe soil and as a result were called “adobes,” which morphed into “dobies” and, eventually, “doughboys.” 

Among other theories, according to “War Slang” by Paul Dickson the American journalist and lexicographer H.L. Mencken claimed the nickname could be traced to Continental Army soldiers who kept the piping on their uniforms white through the application of clay. When the troops got rained on the clay on their uniforms turned into “doughy blobs,” supposedly leading to the doughboy moniker.

Whatever its name and however that name evolved, Doughboy looks great (again) for someone who soon will celebrate its 100th birthday. And Highland Parkers are thrilled he is back where he belongs.

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