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Kilroy was Here

Updated on September 1, 2009

Kilroy was Everywhere

Propaganda is a useful tool in war as it is important to maintain the morale of both the troops in combat and those on the home front in order to keep them focused on working to win the war. Of equal importance is the need to use propaganda to demoralize the enemy.

Propaganda was used extensively by all sides, including the United States, during World War II. As a result, during World War II, the Hollywood movie studios became as much a part of the defense industry as the aircraft manufacturing plants in neighboring Los Angeles suburbs. While not nationalized, Hollywood movie studios were given contracts to produce training and other war related films for the government as well an encouraged (pressured is probably a better word) to include in war related entertainment films plugs for buying war bonds and promotion of ideals such cooperation, heroism, self sacrifice, etc.

While the nation fought, Hollywood continued to crank out a large volume of films that depicted the culture and values of that era. When TV entered the scene following the war and producers were scrambling to produce content to satisfy the new demand for daily video entertainment fare (movies in theaters were generally seen by viewers once a week at the most, while when TV came along it initially broadcast 12 or more hours per day which required considerably more content) the vaults of previously produced movies became a treasure trove for content to fill TV screens and movies from the 1930s and 1940s were common TV fare in the 1950s and 1960s. 

I First Heard of Kilroy from an Old World War II Movie on TV

Thus it was one day while my brother and I were watching an old war movie on TV that I first learned about Kilroy. The only thing I remember about the movie was that the hero and his team had been put ashore from a submarine on some Japanese held Pacific Island in which they destroyed some Japanese defenses in preparation for the American invasion of the island.

Having completed their mission, the commando team made its way back to their rafts under a hail of enemy bullets and just before pushing off, one of the members of the team shouted wait a minute as he opened a bag in the raft, removed something and made his way back to where the beach met the jungle and posted a sign that said Kilroy was Here! My father happened to enter the room at that moment and laughed while we sat perplexed as to why the commando would risk his life for such a stupid thing. But my father explained that the Kilroy joke was real and these jokes had appeared frequently wherever our troops were.

Since then whenever I heard a reference to Kilroy was here I knew what was being referred to. With World War II having ended over a half a century ago and the veterans of that war leaving this world in increasing numbers as time passes, the Kilroy joke seemed to be dieing with it. In fact it has been years since I last heard a reference to it and it was only the racking of my brain in trying to come up with a joke topic that would be unique and original that I have first thought about it in years. My intent for this Hub was to do a couple of quick Google Web searches to locate some World War II humor sites with Kilroy jokes and a Google Image search for some good picture links and have my HubPage published before breakfast.

I have to inform you that, according to the volume of web references, Kilroy is not only alive and well but as active as ever in cyberspace. A Google Image search on the term Kilroy was Here returned 30,700 images in .05 seconds while a Google Web search returned 229,000 in .15 seconds. Unfortunately, for this project at least, Kilroy is being used for all kinds of more recent things on the web which forced me to dig deeper for the links I wanted.

James J. Kilroy Really Existed

Easiest to find was information the history of the phrase and the first and best source was a WikiPedia article entitled Kilroy was Here.

The Kilroy jokes started as with an inspector, named James J. Kilroy, in the Fore River Shipyard in Massachusetts during World War II where his job was to inspect rivets in in the hulls of ships being built for the Navy. The job included counting the rivets as the riveters were paid according to the amount of riveting they accomplished each day.

As they finished each day the riveters would mark the end point with chalk and by counting the rivets between chalk marks, Kilroy could count and record each day's work for the various riveters. Since chalk is easily erasable, some riveters discovered that they could erase the previous day's mark and move it up a bit to include work from the previous day in the current day's work thereby increasing their pay. Kilroy supposedly put an end to this by writing Kilroy was Here next to the chalk mark thereby providing his own reference point for counting.

With much of the riveting being done in interior spaces which were then covered with something else, sailors doing repairs on ships after launch would encounter the Kilroy was Here graffiti while making repairs behind walls and similar areas. Many began writing the phrase themselves in other places and soon Kilroy was Here began appearing everywhere, especially in the military.

This, at least, is the most commonly accepted version of the source of the phrase. Much of its credibility rests on a December 24, 1946 article in the New York Times entitled Transit Association Ships a Streetcar to Shelter Family of 'Kilroy Was Here' which credits James J. Kilroy with starting the Kilroy was Here phrase.

A Short Guide to Further Kilroy Reading

Digging through the mass of Kilroy references, I have found the following sites with some good World War II Kilroy was Here stories:

One of the best sources I found was Kilroy Was Here org. It is a great site with lots of great photos and information all or most of it being first person accounts. Unfortunately, despite its name, it is an all encompassing military (mostly World War II) site which forces the visitor to dig through a considerable amount of information in search of war related Kilroy stories.

One very good page on the site can be found by clicking on the link next to an account entitled Kilroy from Alcan to Utah Beach. The link is on a page entitled "Kilroy was Here" Sightings page 2. On the page are a series of Kilroy drawings by an unknown artist in the 145th Combat Engineer Battalion which were saved by a Col. John French McGaughey and compiled and posted after McGaughey's death by his grandson Andy Miller. These drawings really capture the spirit of the era.

"Kilroy was Here" Sightings page 3 of the site contains two short World War II accounts interspersed among a number of non-World War II Kilroy information.

The first one was posted by a retired Army major by the name of Ray Rauanheimo who recalled the earliest piece of Kilroy humor which he found on a toilet stall wall and read:

"Clap my hands and jump for joy; I was here before Kilroy."

And below it another had written:

"Sorry to spoil your little joke; I was here, but my pencil broke. --Kilroy"

Further down on the same page was an account that the famous war photographer, Robert Capa claimed to have seen on the wall behind General McAuliffe, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in the French town of Bastogne which had been surrounded by some 2,000 German troops. When asked to surrender by the surrounding German army, McAuliffe replied with one word, Nuts! Fortunately the next afternoon, tank commander Lt. Col. Abrams reached the German perimeter and ordered his tanks to charge through the German lines and not stop until the reached the trapped 101st Airborne troops. Capa was with Abrams' unit and was present when Abrams entered the building McAuliffe was using for his headquarters and was greeted with a simple It's good to see you Colonel, by McAuliffe.

On the wall behind McAuliffe someone had scribbled Kilroy was stuck here. The author of the piece was unsure as to whether Capa took a picture or not but speculated that, if he had, that it may have been among the thousands of photos that the Army required to be sent to the photography pool rather than sold to news outlets, in this way the Army acquired possession and credit for the photos. Some day someone may discover the picture, if it exists, in a military archive.

A site called Ohio History org has a nice collection of World War II posters. While not directly related to Kilroy, it is an example of the government's Office of War Information using the Kilroy technique by posting propaganda posters everywhere or as one official of the OWI said in 1943 "We want to see posters on fences, on the walls of buildings, on village hotel lobbies, in the windows of vacant stores...[they should shout] at people from unexpected places with all the urgency which this war demands."

My final link is from the BBC's (British Broadcasting Corporation) site (a reference to this posting can also be found on the Kilroy Was Here org site) and deals with Kilroy's effect on Adolph Hitler. According to rumor Hitler became convinced that Kilroy was really the code name for an Allied spy. And he was obviously not only our most successful spy but the boldest one as well since he always left behind his mark. And that mark was everywhere, so much so that Hitler actually feared that Kilroy might be able to penetrate his security and assassinate him. According to these rumors, Hitler became so concerned about Kilroy that he diverted resources away from the war effort and reassigned them to finding Kilroy.

If the BBC story is true then Kilroy can be credited with not only keeping up the morale of the troops in the field and civilians back home but in actually helping to weaken the Nazi war machine. Even it the BBC reported rumor is not true, Kilroy remains a great reminder of humanity's love of humor and a good joke - a love that cannot be quashed even by the horrors of war.

Kilroy in the Toilet

Kilroy was Stuck Here


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