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The Homefront, Then and Now

Kilroy Was Here

His image, at least eyes, nose and fingers, was ubiquitous during World War II.You could encounter him anywhere, and he always made you smile. Kids loved him. but so did GIs and the home-front population. There could be some fun in a war, after all. Wherever you were, Kilroy had always been there first, and he wanted you to know it.

When the war was raging, we just enjoyed the mystery. But in 1946 the American Transit Association sponsored a nationwide contest to find the man who could prove he was the real deal. Forty men tried, but only James Kilroy from Halifax, Mass., had the proof. His prize was a trolley car, which he made into a playhouse for his nine kids.

He was a 46-year-old shipyard worker at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Mass, and his job was to go around counting rivets. Riveters got paid by the rivet, and his job was to determine how much they had earned that day. He counted, then marked them with a waxy check mark so the rivets wouldn't be counted twice. However, when Kilroy was off duty, the sneaky riveters would erase the check so their work would get counted again when the foreman came by.

But the foreman smelled something fishy, and Kilroy figured out the scam. How to thwart it was the puzzle. The tight spaces he had to crawl through while counting did not allow him to carry paint, so he took to adding "KILROY WAS HERE," and eventually added the big nose peering over the fence. The riveters got the message and quit their shenanigans, and with no time for niceities like paint, the ships were launched with Kilroy's self-portrait intact.

It tickled the funny bones of thousands of troops who saw it when they shipped out to Europe or the South Pacific. They took to thus-branding wherever local they landed on, claiming the mystery man had been there first! Eventually the Statue of Liberty, top of Mount Everest, and even an outhouse used exclusively by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt bore the graffiti. Evidently, Kilroy even had reached outer space. The dust of the moon bears the words, "KILROY WAS HERE. The tradition lives on....
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