THE WRITING ON THE WALL
This is the best picture that any photographer here or any place else has ever gotten of the fabulous Kilroy. Kilroy is the most respected GI philosopher alive today. He is the complement to the “sad sack.” Whereas the “sad sack” never expresses himself, Kilroy invariably goes on the record with a pure unadulterated personal opinion.
photograph and caption from the Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada)
25th August 1945
The name Kilroy designates a mythical person whose name members of the U.S. armed forces inscribed on walls, etc., all over the world during the Second World War (cf. the origin of ‘Kilroy’?).
Much has already been written on the subject. I will therefore only mention early occurrences of Kilroy that have apparently not been found yet.
According to my research, although Kilroy might have been in usage in the armed forces earlier elsewhere, it is first recorded at the air force base of Kearns and in Salt Lake City, both in Utah, in June and July 1945.
The earliest instances that I have found are from the following article, published in the Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah) on 5th July 1945; this article suggests that Kilroy was already used in other places of the USA, and its jocular tone clearly indicates that, as the author themself writes, “the man is legendary”:
KILROY IS HERE
Kearns Announces Visit of U.S. Notable
Kearns—Kilroy has arrived at the Kearns AAF overseas replacement depot.
Kilroy, who has been at practically every camp, base and airfield east of the Rockies, made his appearance last week in Utah and while his future frontiers seem to be limited, any overseas-bound soldier at Kearns can tell you that Kilroy is probably destined for overseas duty with the rest of his buddies.
While no one, either in Salt Lake City or at Kearns, has seen him yet, Kilroy is around, because the evidences of his presence are many. It seems that wherever Kilroy has been, or whatever he has done, a note of his actions is penciled on the wall nearest his activity.
For instance, go up to some of Kearns’ supply warehouses and you’ll find notices saying that “Kilroy worked here.” Amble over to the guard squadron and you’ll see signs written on the walls to the effect that “Kilroy pulled guard here.” Visit any barracks and you’ll see bunk notes proclaiming that “Kilroy slept here.” And on the many walls of the many restaurants and other public places in Salt Lake City, you’ll find that Kilroy ate here, danced here, was bored here or had one helluva good time here.
Who’s Kilroy? The man is legendary. Some say he’s a second lieutenant who asked to be given a job equivalent to his ability and gladly accepted a buck private’s rank in taking up his new duties.
In fact, and we’ll let you in on a secret, Kilroy has even read this article.
On 12th July 1945, the same newspaper, the Salt Lake Telegram, had:
Friday the 13th is upon us! Tomorrow.
Spirits other than the kind obtained with a ration card invade the earth and make king-sized gremlins. It’s a fine day for Kilroy, the poor soldier who has been everywhere, but seen nowhere.
The Independent-Press-Telegram (Long Beach, California) of 13th May 1962 evoked Kilroy was Here—A Reflection of History in Some Language Fads, published in The Psychoanalytic Quarterly (volume 31, 1962), by Dr Clyde H. Ward:
KILROY WAS HERE
FLYBOY, DOUGHBOY, GOB AND IMP
By Sterling Bemis
Kilroy, the phantom of World War II, has been psychoanalyzed on a paper couch and may be headed for a Discharge Without Honor as a Section VIII case.
(Section VIII covers anyone dumb enough to get out of uniform before his hitch is up.)
After prolonged research, Dr. Clyde H. Ward of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has written a paper claiming Kilroy wasn’t invented until the middle of 1945. The Philadelphia psychiatrist says the khaki leprechaun was a product of demobilization and contends the phrase KILROY WAS HERE was used at Kearns Field, Salt Lake City. The Kearns Air Force Post Review published it on June 26, 1945¹.
Like any good psychiatrist, Dr. Ward has an intricate explanation for everything. He concludes that soldiers wrote the ubiquitous phrase to quell anxiety about re-entering the perilous civilian world. To the psychiatrist, Kilroy suggests revolt against tyrants (kill the king²), soothing the serviceman with memories of past triumphs.
¹ According to The Yale Book of Quotations, the passage in question from the Kearns Air Force Post Review of 26th June 1945 is:
“To the Unknown Soldier—Kilroy Sleeps Here.”
² Kilroy would be a pun on kill roy, where roy means king – cf. French roi.
In February 1957, The American Legion Magazine published this appeal in its Newsletter:
IS THIS TRUE ABOUT KILROY?
Was Kilroy “here” during WW2 or only after the war? . . . Dr. Clyde H. Ward of Detroit reports to “Newsletter” that in many months of trying to find a published reference to “Kilroy was here” the earliest one submitted to him is a clipping dated June 26, 1945. . . . Dr. Ward is now beginning to feel that as far as being recognized in print, “Kilroy was here,” was a post-war, and not a wartime, phenomenon. . . . “Newsletter” can’t prove otherwise, but feels certain that there must have been cartoons or other published notices referring to “Kilroy was here” long before June of 1945 . . . Any readers in possession of such clippings prior to that date, or who can make a specific reference to such a clipping, would do “Newsletter” and researcher Ward a big favor by forwarding same to: “Newsletter,” The American Legion Magazine, 720 Fifth Ave., New York 19, N.Y.
In June 1957, the same magazine published the numerous, and often fanciful, replies to this appeal, but had to conclude with:
So far, nobody has sent us any published reference to the “Kilroy was here” message that was printed any earlier than June 26, 1945, and Dr. Clyde Ward of Detroit, who is doing a serious study of the Kilroy myth, is just where he was six months ago, convinced that Kilroy was never recognized in print until WW2 was practically over.
The following from The Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon) of 29th July 1945 confirms that Kilroy was originally seen merely as an amusing legend:
Soldier Named Kilroy Makes Bunyan Chump
Seattle, July 28.—(AP) It looks like Paul Bunyan, long the north-west’s legendary hero, is being eclipsed by a soldier named Kilroy, a soldier who isn’t there.
Out at Fort Lawton this Kilroy is the man of the moment, and each succeeding crop of G.I.’s adds to his list of followers.
All over the post you’ll see scribbled signs like “Kilroy slept here . . . off limits for Kilroy . . . Kilroy smoked under here . . . Kilroy got gang plank fever . . . Kilroy had 72 points . . .”
Yet nobody knows—for sure—who Kilroy was or how the legend started. Some think he was a soldier with a mania for seeing his name in his own print. One private said he “heard somebody say he was a white rat.”
Very early, mutually exclusive identities were ascribed to Kilroy. The first accounts of the origin of the name, however, seem to be have been mere pleasantries, since they explicitly referred to Kilroy as a legendary figure; the first that I have found is from the Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) of 20th August 1945:
Kilroy got his legendary start at Boca Raton, Fla., air base. One version is that a fellow named Kilroy attended, after a fashion, radar classes there. When he attended he went to sleep. Frequently he didn’t attend at all. His companions noticing his eccentric habits began scribbling notes and leaving them in the classroom.
“Kilroy is coming,” was a sample. “Kilroy slept here,” was another.
The second-earliest account is from the Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) of 25th August 1945:
Kilroy’s story is briefly this: The legend of Kilroy started at the Yuma Army Air Field, which was the first combination radio-gunnery school in the country. Kilroy went to that field as a radio operator for his gunnery training before he went overseas. Before that he had been at Advanced School for Aviation Cadets. The story goes that just 15 seconds before he was to have graduated and as he was about to have his wings put on, he tripped over a chair and fell into the Colonel’s lap. He was washed out on the spot.
When he was eliminated from Cadets he had his choice of Radio, Mechanics or Armore [sic] School and he picked Mechanics so they sent him to Radio. He washed back 36 times and was then graduated. From there he went to Yuma a very eager character and upon his arrival spent eleven happy weeks in the pool drawing K.P. [= kitchen police] every other day and latrine detail the other days. Every Sunday Kilroy had off he pulled CQ [= charge of quarters] or Fire Guard or he moved to a new tent. After the eleventh week he left the pool but he was not forgotten by following gunners. On eleven beds were the words, “Kilroy slept here,” on eleven tents, “Kilroy lived here,” and on eleven wash bowls in the latrine, “Kilroy washed here.”