Military Traditions

June 2, 2022 By Carol Moore

The Hole History of National Donut Day

Why do PVE Moaners and Groaners like donuts? Because they get a hole in one.

If that riddle leaves you with a glazed expression, you probably don’t realize that the first Friday of June each year is National Donut Day. This now mostly commercial event actually has a military tradition. The Salvation Army created the celebration in 1938 to honor about 250 members who went to France to aid and feed soldiers during World War I. Since it was difficult to provide freshly baked treats from the huts established in abandoned buildings near the front lines, two women volunteers figured out how to fry donuts, seven at a time, in soldiers’ helmets. The treats became an instant hit and the women who served them were known as “Donut Dollies.” During World War II, the Red Cross outfitted buses with coffeemakers and donut fryers in England.

Cake-style or yeast-raised donuts with various sizes, shapes and fillings are available worldwide. But the pink boxes used to sell them by the dozens have a California connection. Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy led to Camp Pendleton in the 1970s and eventually made millions by training fellow immigrants and establishing a West Coast dynasty of donut shops. Wanting to change from the standard white box, he preferred a lucky red color but settled on cheaper, leftover pink stock. The color became a recognizable standard, especially when it appeared as props in film and television. (Unfortunately, Ngoy, the Donut King, lost his fortune to gambling and has since returned to Cambodia as shown in a PBS documentary.)

At the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, donuts were touted as the “Food Hit of the Century of Progress,” in recognition of their fresh ingredients and automated preparation. The donut had come a long way since Dutch settlers in New York introduced it to America in the early 1800s as their “olykoeks” or oily cakes with fruit and nut fillings.

The donut’s hole is attributed to Hanson Gregory, a young ship captain, for various reasons. One theory says he was taking out chopped nuts or wet dough in the center of the fried treats. Another account says he impaled donuts on the spokes of the ship’s wheel to keep his hands free for steering.

As if donuts were not a nutritional nightmare, per se, the National Restaurant Association says “donuts with non-traditional fillings” are a trend at upscale bakeries. Think bacon, chai latte or peanut butter and jelly. Not to mention that Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts provide the usual favorites 24/7.

So, as you celebrate this deep-fried, sugarcoated, patriotic, hole-y day on June 4, remember, as Oscar Wilde once said, “The optimist sees the donut; the pessimist sees the hole.”


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