G.I. is a noun used to describe the soldiers of the U.S. Army and airmen of the U.S. Army Air Forces — and occasionally for U.S. Marines and shorebound sailors — and also for general items of their equipment. The term G.I. has now used for a long time as an initialism of "Government Issue" or "General Issue", but it originally referred to "galvanized iron", as used by the logistics services of the Armed Forces of the United States.
The letters "G.I." were used to denote equipment made from galvanized iron, such as metal trash cans, in U.S. Army inventories and supply records. During World War I, American soldiers sardonically referred to incoming German artillery shells as "G.I. cans". Also during that war, "G.I." started being interpreted as "Government Issue" or "General Issue" for the general items of equipment of soldiers and airmen - especially since back at that time, the air force was part of the Army in most countries, including the United States. The term "G.I." came into widespread use in the United States beginning with the start of selective service ("the draft") in the peacetime year of 1940 and extending into 1941, when the draft was much resented because the United States was at peace until December 7, 1941. Next, the use of "G.I." exploded during the war years of 1942 through 1945.
"G.I." was also used as an adjective for anything having to do with the Army or the Air Force. During World War II, "G.I. Joe" became the general nickname for all American soldiers, no matter what branch of the Army or Army Air Forces they were in: infantry, artillery, armor, Rangers, paratroopers, logistics, combat support, or the other support wings of the Army or the Air Force. Thus, the interpretation of "General Infantry" is quite incorrect, because the vast majority of soldiers and airmen are not infantrymen.
Soldiers and airmen sardonically referred to themselves as "G.I." = "General Issue" items, all equally as disposable as helmets, boots, tents, canteens, rifles, jeeps, trucks, tanks, and combat aircraft. They viewed themselves as being "General Issue" items of "Uncle Sam" while they were in military service.
The American Five-star General Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1945 that "the truly heroic figure of this war [is] G.I. Joe and his counterpart in the air, the navy, and the Merchant Marine of every one of the United Nations."
"G.I." has also been used as a verb in military circles, and it describes a deep-cleaning process of an area or item to achieve higher-than-normal standards. Armed Services trainees, for example, could be ordered to "G.I." a garbage can to the point that anyone could safely eat from its surface.
- Rawson, Hugh (April/May 2006). "Why do we say "G.I."?". American Heritage. Archived from the original on 29 August 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080829172935/http://americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/2006/2/2006_2_15.shtml.
- Wilton, Dave (2 February 2009). "G.I. - Wordorigins.org". Wordorigins.org. http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/310/.
- "GI – Definitions from Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc.. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/GI.
- "Funeral Pyres of Nazidom". Universal Newsreel. 10 May 1945. http://archive.org/details/1945-05-10_Funeral_Pyres_of_Nazidom.
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