Kilroy: The Man Behind The Wall

I know a lot of you are curious about the title to my upcoming book, Kilroy Was Here, but have been too shy to ask about it. We’ve all heard “there’s no such thing as a dumb question” and we all know that’s a bald-faced lie. There are sooooo many dumb questions. The world is filled with dumb questions. Now more than ever. But, this isn’t one of them. So who is this Kilroy? Is he (is it a he?) the protagonist of the book? Why was he here? Where is here? Where did he go? Where are any of us going? What is the meaning of life? Relax. I will answer most of these questions, if not all of them, in the following sections. (The answer to the last one, of course, is the number 42.)

To clarify, Kilroy is not a character in my novel. 

So who is Kilroy? 

Well, there is still much speculation about this, so it’s more important to understand the what, instead of the who. The phrase “Kilroy Was Here” has its origins during the height of World War II and is usually accompanied by a crude drawing of a bald head and large nose peeking over a wall. The image and phrase became a popular graffiti tag left on the battlefields of Europe, Asia, and Africa by American soldiers, thus proving that even then most soldiers were, as they still are, delinquent vandals at heart. Though Kilroy has many variations, he’s typically depicted like the image below:

Kilroy was here

Engraving of Kilroy on the WWII Memorial in Washington DC

 

So Where Did “Kilroy Was Here” Originate?

This is where the who comes in. The most prominent origin theory for “Kilroy Was Here” starts with a Rivet Inspector named James J. Kilroy in a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. During World War II, the United States was manufacturing naval vessels for the war at an extraordinary rate and Rivet Inspectors like James J. Kilroy were paid by the number of rivets they inspected each day in these ships. To keep track of where he’d left off or to keep shifty coworkers from erasing or moving his marks, Kilroy began to leave the message “Kilroy Was Here” wherever he stopped for the day. Oftentimes, the ships were pushed into service so fast these marks were never erased or painted over and the message “Kilroy Was Here” could be seen in random—often obscure—places inside the ships. Many of these ships were troop transport carriers, delivering soldiers to battlefields in every theater of the war. The soldier’s, seeing the marks and the messages, began leaving Kilroy everywhere as they fought their way across war-torn continents. Kilroy quickly became a legend, as soldiers sought to outdo each other by finding increasingly difficult-to-reach places to leave him. Many soldiers marveled at how often Kilroy seemed to appear on the battlefield before anyone else. It was, essentially, the original viral social media post.  

Why The Heck Is Your Book About Afghanistan Named After WWII Graffiti?

Good question. Kilroy traveled with U.S. soldiers into the Korean War and even made a few appearances in Vietnam. Most recently he has popped his bald head up in Iraq and Afghanistan, though that’s not the reason for the title. My book has less to do with the war itself and more to do with the people who live it. The individual soldiers who slog out the day-to-day, no matter how ridiculous it might sometimes seem, and how each soldier, in some way, hopes to leave a mark on the war. Kilroy Was Here is a story of both hubris and humility as well as how our treatment of others can shape our world more than bombs and bullets ever could; though sometimes we can’t always see it in the moment.

Fun Fact #1: There is rumored to be a Kilroy sketched into the dust on the surface of the moon… from the astronauts… not from aliens or anything. 

Fun Fact #2: The character “Wilson” on the hit 90’s TV show, “Home Improvement”, was originally to be called “Kilroy” as his hands and the top half of his face were all that were ever seen over the fence. ***THIS HAS BEEN FLAGGED AS FAKE NEWS*** 

For more popular theories about the origin of “Kilroy Was Here”, check out www.kilroywashere.org 

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