He is engraved in stone in the National War Memorial in Washington, DC- back in a small alcove where very few people have seen it. (I actually have, it was pointed out to me at the military opening.)

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For the WWII generation, this will bring back memories. For you younger folks, it’s a bit of trivia that is a part of our American history. Anyone born in 1913 to about 1950, is familiar with Kilroy. No one knew why he was so well known-but everybody seemed to get into it.  So, who was Kilroy?

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In 1946 the American Transit Association, through its radio program, “Speak to America ,” sponsored a nationwide contest to find the real Kilroy, offering a prize of a real trolley car to the person who could prove himself to be the genuine article. Almost 40 men stepped forward to make that claim, but only James Kilroy from Halifax, Massachusetts, had evidence of his identity.

‘Kilroy’ was a 46-year old shipyard worker during the war who worked as a checker at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. His job was to go around & check on the number of rivets completed. Riveters were on piecework  & got paid by the rivet. He would count a block of rivets & put a check mark in semi-waxed lumber chalk, so the rivets wouldn’t be counted twice. When Kilroy went off duty, the riveters would erase the mark.  Later on, an off-shift inspector would come through & count the rivets a second time, resulting in double pay for the riveters.

One day Kilroy’s boss called him into his office. The foreman was upset about all the wages being paid to riveters, & asked him to investigate. It was then he realized what had been going on. The tight spaces he had to crawl in to check the rivets didn’t lend themselves to lugging around a paint can & brush, so Kilroy decided to stick with the waxy chalk. He continued to put his check mark on each job he inspected, but added ‘KILROY WAS HERE’ in king-sized letters next to the check and eventually added the sketch of the chap with the long nose peering over the fence and became part of the Kilroy message.

Once he did that, the riveters stopped trying to wipe away his marks. Ordinarily the rivets & chalk marks would have been covered up with paint. With the war on, however, ships were leaving the Quincy Yard so fast that there wasn’t time to paint them. As a result, Kilroy’s inspection “trademark” was seen by thousands of servicemen who boarded the troopships the yard produced.

His message apparently rang a bell with the servicemen, because they picked it up & spread it all over Europe & the South Pacific.

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Before war’s end, “Kilroy” had been here, there, & everywhere on the long hauls to Berlin & Tokyo. To the troops outbound in those ships, however, he was a complete mystery; all they knew for sure was that someone named Kilroy had “been there first.”

As a joke, U.S. servicemen began placing the graffiti wherever they landed, claiming it was already there when they arrived

Kilroy became the U.S. super-GI who had always “already been” wherever GIs went. It became a challenge to place the logo in the most unlikely places imaginable (it is said to be atop Mt. Everest, the Statue of Liberty, the underside of the Arc de Triomphe, & even scrawled in the dust on the moon.


As the war went on, the legend grew. Underwater demolition teams routinely sneaked ashore on Japanese-held islands in the Pacific to map the terrain for coming invasions by U.S. troops (& thus, presumably, were the first GI’s there). On one occasion, however, they reported seeing enemy troops painting over the Kilroy logo!

In 1945, an outhouse was built for the exclusive use of Roosevelt, Stalin, & Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Its first occupant was Stalin, who emerged & asked his aide (in Russian), “Who is Kilroy?”

To help prove his authenticity in 1946, James Kilroy brought along officials from the shipyard & some of the riveters. He won the trolley car, which he gave to his nine children as a Christmas gift & set it up as a playhouse in the Kilroy yard in Halifax, Massachusetts.

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Kilroy was still around in the 70s-90s when I was on active duty, saw a bunch of them all over the world. I ‘hope’ that tradition is continuing even today.

From reader Geoff- Look at the inside of the nose gear door, just in front of the nose gear.   Then look at the pilots name under the windscreen.  Either way, he’s the Canadian CF-18 Demonstration pilot for this season.


Kilroy… — 26 Comments

  1. I didn’t know that the original Kilroy had been found.
    I do remember reading a science fiction short story about Kilroy.
    I think it was this one.
    And I read it either in a reprint, and anthology, or a used copy of a science fiction magazine.
    The story came out in 1956, and although I started reading early, I wasn’t reading at the age of four.

    Good post.

  2. 1963- Kilroy was overlooking the urinals at Boy Scout Camp.

  3. Let’s not overlook the twidgets – Thomas Pynchon gave us a hat tip in “V,” where the icon appeared as an LC filter.

  4. John- I’ll have to find a copy of that. I probably read it, but I don’t remember it.

    Robert- LOL

    Stencil- Excellent point!

    CP- snerk… You sure it wasn’t ‘Kiljoy’???

  5. I’ve used Kilroy as a signature on credit card terminals.

  6. Ed- Yep, most of the military folks have ‘those’ stories.

    Peter- OH, I LIKE that idea!

    WSF- That too! 😀

  7. What a great post, uplifting somehow. Well, beats thinking about the goonshow inside the beltway.

  8. Hey Old NFO;

    I remembered seeing Kilroy in Boy Scout camps in the 1970’s. I also saw it on stuff in the 1980’s and on some of the monuments. We at my place of employment have our own “Kilroy”. It says “Messer is a homo”. That was written inside cargo bays, the E&E Bays,inside of panels and other places that customers don’t see. It also is on elevators and other steel beans that haven’t been painted over. We have people from other divisions ask us “Who is Messer”. The new group don’t do it, but to the older people, it is a link to a bygone era.

  9. LSP- Doesn’t it though!

    Bob- LOL, that’s funny, and obviously a ‘history’ there…

  10. Likely NO link whatsoever with Kilroy, but with WWII in general:

    75 years ago tomorrow, the “Ramp Tramp,” a B-29 bombing Japan from a base in China, is forced to divert to Vladivostok after receiving anti-aircraft damage. Two other B-29 crews later were also diverted there, before the bases were changed to fly out of the Pacific. The other two were named “Hap Arnold Special” and “Ding Hao.” Per my 6th grade Sunday School teacher, “Ding Hao” means “good job.”

    As stipulated by international law, the crew and aircraft were interned; Stalin wasn’t at war with Japan yet. He kept the aircraft, and ordered Tupolev to reverse-engineer them. This resulted in the Tu-4. The crew were maintained in okay quarters, and later repatriated.

  11. Pat- True story. And they duplicated the airplanes down to the patched bullet holes. And superchargers that didn’t work!!!

  12. Hi Old NFO!!!,
    Yup, Kilroy!!.. was here !!
    and ya’ have ta’ remember also,”Lucky Strike Green!!!”
    I still have a “Lucky Strike ‘Flat Fifty’s” Tin that i found in the “Barn’ before it got tore down!! It now encases a hand full of “Indian Arrow heads” My Grand Father found on the farm when walking the rows after a rainfall!!
    Blue Skies!!,

  13. I have put Killroy on a few places that may never be seen…but we know..heh.

  14. Kilroy lives on in the porta shitters of MCAS New River, Bridgeport, Pendleton and 29 Stumps. Most recent I can claim is April, 2015.

    I was heavily influenced by Kelly’s Hero’s as a kid.
    My sharpie marker got around.

    Up yours, baby 😀

  15. I’m guessing this came from a research rabbit hole. Interesting bit of trivia that will now live forever in the darkest reaches of my mind…thanks for that. 🙂