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On National Doughnut Day, Free Food And Feel-Good History

We here at The Salt tend to look at themed food days with a heavy dose of skepticism. Most of these days sound more like marketing schemes than true reasons for a national day of remembrance.

So we were pleasantly surprised to learn that there is a bona fide historical reason to chow down on a deep-fried pastry today to mark National Doughnut Day.

Turns out, during World War I, women volunteers with the Salvation Army would hand out doughnuts – then considered a European delicacy – to American GIs serving overseas. To honor these women's service and raise funds during the Great Depression, in 1938 the the Salvation Army's Chicago branch declared the first Friday in June to be National Doughnut Day. These "dough girls" or "dough lassies," as they were called, continued the tradition during World War II.

Doughnuts held a special place in American servicemen's hearts during the Vietnam War as well. Angie Williams, wife of former Vietnam POW Orson Swindle, told the U.S. Naval Institute's blog that her husband inadvertently invented his own version of National Doughnut Day during the six years he was held captive at Son Tay prison camp. Apparently, Swindle — who had dropped more than 50 pounds during his captivity — convinced his jailers that Nov. 10 was National Doughnut Day, which he described as a big national holiday for Americans. As Williams recounts in the blog:

"A few weeks went by, and to everyone's great surprise, on November 10 the prisoners at Son Tay prison — known for being one of the worst —and also for the failed rescue attempt — were served sticky buns and — Orson was the hero of the day!"

Of course, doughnuts are no longer an exotic confection; they've become a $12 billion industry. And corporate vendors will be more than happy to use Friday's occasion to push their sugary treats on consumers.

Many of them are offering doughnuts for free. (But good luck trying to score a cronut — free or otherwise. Lines for this croissant-doughnut hybrid reportedly start forming at 6 a.m. outside a New York bakery.)

You'll have better luck at Krispy Kreme, where customers can get a free doughnut of any variety (get the details). At Dunkin' Donuts, the free doughnut comes with the purchase of a beverage.

While you're there, you can also check out the company's new Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, a bacon, egg, cheese and pastry concoction. Of course, after a meal like that, it will probably comfort you to know that this is also National CPR/AED Awareness Week, designed to make sure Americans know how to use an automated external defibrillator. Hope you brushed up on your resuscitation skills, folks.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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