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. 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?
In 1946 the American Transit
Association, through its radio
Program, “Speak to America ,
” sponsored a nationwide contest
To find the real Kilroy, offering
A prizeof 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 and check on the
Number of rivets completed.
Riveters were on piecework and
Got paid by the rivet. He would
Count a block of rivets and 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 and 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, and 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 and 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 that became part
Of the Kilroy message.
Once he did that, the riveters
Stopped trying to wipe away
His marks. Ordinarily the rivets
And 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 and spread it all over
Europe and the South Pacific.
Before war’s end, “Kilroy” had been
here, there, and everywhere on the
long hauls to Berlin and 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
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, and even scrawled in
the dust on the moon.
As the war went on, the legend grew.
Underwater demolition teams routine
ly sneaked ashore on Japanese-held
islands in the Pacific to map the
terrain for coming invasions by U.S.
troops (and 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,
and Churchill at the Potsdam
conference. Its’ first occupant was
Stalin, who emerged and asked his
aide (in Russian), “Who is Kilroy?”
To help prove his authenticity in 1946
, James Kilroy brought along officials
from the shipyard and some of the
riveters. He won the trolley car,
which he gave to his nine children
as a Christmas gift and set it up as
a playhouse in the Kilroy yard in
Halifax , Massachusetts .