Kilroy Was Here, The First Meme to go Viral was during WW2
Kilroy Was Here was by Their Side
Long before the Internet made memes a staple of the modern world. A simple long nosed character named Kilroy made his way around the globe the old-fashioned way, becoming a legend among the millions of military men and women who served during World War 2.
The imaginary Kilroy became a super hero to the G.I.s. Wherever they went, he was there, welcoming the Greatest Generation with a simple quote, ‘KILROY WAS HERE!’ Kilroy was part of home, part of why we fight, part of American spirit.
The quick, easy to draw doodle sported a big elongated nose, a smooth bald head, beady eyes, and three to four fingers on each hand dangled over an imaginary wall. The drawing was always accompanied with the tag “Kilroy was here.” Soon Kilroy started Popping up in strange and unlikely places across every theater of war visited by American troops. The wartime meme quickly developed into one of the wars most historic symbols.
He never failed to encourage the troops or provide them with an immediate chuckle. The soldiers appreciated Kilroy and anticipated his appearance in the most unlikely of places. He would pop up on an ammo box, a large rock, the turret of a Sherman tank, beneath a B-17 bomber or on the wing of a P-38 Lightning. He hid in the ruins of buildings, emerged on a castle wall or the hull of a ship; Kilroy was here, Kilroy was there, Kilroy was everywhere.
The Origins of Kilroy Was Here.
The origins of “Kilroy Was Here” remain murky and clouded by urban legend, but the claim to fame goes to one James Kilroy, a rivet inspector at the Fore River shipyard in Quincy during the war.
James J. Kilroy — a rivet inspector who, like everyone in his trade, was paid by the number of rivets he checked and recorded his day’s work on the machinery itself with a chalk mark. while James was off duty the riveters erased the chalk marks so an on duty checker would count the rivets a second time; this allowed the riveters to receive double pay.
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After being questioned by his boss about skyrocketing riveter wages, James investigated and determined the cause. His solution was simple: continue to mark the rivets as he had before but he would also write “KILROY WAS HERE’ in king-sized letters next to the chalk marks. Later he would add the historic sketch of a bald headed, large nosed, beady eyed man peering over an imaginary fence.
With the war in full swing, ships were leaving the shipyard so quickly there was no time to paint over all the artwork. James Kilroy’s inspection gimmick was seen by thousands upon thousands of soldiers boarding ships. The slogan quickly spread and soon ‘KILROY WAS HERE!’ appeared across the globe.
By the end of World War II, “Kilroy Was Here” had achieved cult-like status, springing up in the unlikeliest of places including some top-secret military installations, latrines in France and beaches in the Pacific. Even the walls in Germany were covered with the Kilroy tag. As the war progressed, it became a rally cry of the mounting Allied successes.
While Americans shared a few good-hearted laughs over the mysterious Kilroy, who somehow managed to arrive at every destination first, the slogan was a more serious matter for the opposition.
Kilroy confuses the enemy
Japanese troops were so mystified by a “Kilroy Was Here” painted on a bombed out tank on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal that they reported the find to their senior intelligence officers, according to a U.S. Marine interviewed by World War II author Timothy Benford.
Hitler thought Kilroy to be some kind of “Super-GI” or spy, unconfirmed reports have stated. He was so concerned he ordered a contingent of men to track down the elusive American named Kilroy. He would never be found.
Specially trained Marine recon units and Navy frogmen once sneaked onto Japanese-held islands in the Pacific for pre-invasion intelligence. On one island an underwater demolition team reportedly discovered the Japanese ‘painting over’ a Kilroy logo. The question everybody asked, “If only Japanese inhabit the island, how did Kilroy get there?”
The real Kilroy wasn’t revealed until 1946, when a national radio contest searching for the original “artist” uncovered and authenticated the story of James Kilroy in Quincy, which still celebrates its hometown celebrity with Pin-the-Nose-on-Kilroy competitions.
Kilroy Was Here Still Lives on Today!
Despite a few unique appearances reported recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Kilroy fad largely faded from memory after a small resurgence in popularity during the Korean War in the 1950s.
Or did it? The Strange Places You Can Find Kilroy Was Here meme Today!
In the most unlikely of places, Kilroy is rumored to be atop the Statue of Liberty, on the underside of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, atop Mount Everest, and yes, even scribbled in the dust on the moon.
Perhaps the most significant recognition of Kilroy is two hard to find locations on the walls of the World War 2 Memorial in Washington, DC. Honor Flight veterans search for their long time friend at the Memorial each time they visit.
Kilroy was with them through it all, wherever they fought, he was by their side, through thick and thin, he helped them win. He truly was a member of the Greatest Generation, now, after all these years, he’s home, yes…
‘KILROY IS HERE!’