Participants at the 2018 East Valley Veterans Parade on Monday, Nov. 12, will notice a familiar yet new face looking at them from signs and floats.
He’s a bald gentleman sporting a large nose and peering over the top of a wall. That’s the face of Kilroy, the iconic graffiti character who came to popularity during World War II. Next to his image is usually found the phrase, “Kilroy Was Here,” which quickly became synonymous with the service, dedication and commitment of U.S. Armed Forces.
Kilroy is possibly the first viral meme, long before there was even such a thing as social media. Throughout every combat, training or occupation operation during WWII and the Korean War, Kilroy always got there first and left last.
His simple outline caught the imagination of GIs wherever they went. While his true origin is debated, many historians agree that the saying most likely came from a worker at a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts.
James A. Kilroy was a rivet inspector, paid by the number of rivets he checked and recorded each day with chalk marks on the machinery itself. To make sure no one else tried to take credit for his work, he began inscribing “Kilroy was here” onto the machinery.
Ships were desperately needed during WWII, so most were put into service before the workers’ marks were painted over. American GIs began noticing the phrase scrawled on outgoing ships, often tucked into hard-to-reach areas.
GIs began tagging the places they visited in war theaters in Europe, Asia and Africa. They attached the character drawing with the saying sometime early in the war, probably based on a popular English cartoon.
It quickly became a competition to place Kilroy in the most unusual places, including top-secret military installations, bases and battlefields. Every surface imaginable became an opportunity to draw this simple cartoon. The original cartoons were drawn with whatever could be found at hand, from chalk to pencil to pen, and provided encouragement and comfort to embattled soldiers.
Today, you can find Kilroy etched in stone in two places near the Pennsylvania pillar of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. reminding veterans that Kilroy is still with GIs when they are in harm’s way.
The East Valley Veterans Parade is supported by premium sponsors 960 The Patriot, Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, East Valley Tribune/Times Media Group, Grand Canyon University and Signarama Chandler.
Stars & Stripes Sponsors are Albertsons-Safeway, Berge Ford, Downtown Mesa Association, Mesa Community College, Mesa HoHoKams, SRP and Visit Mesa.
Patriot Sponsors are the Berg Family, Boeing, DAV-East Valley Chapter 8, Gateway Bank, Marc Community Resources, Mesa Secure Storage, Mesa Sunrise Rotary Club, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and VFW Dode Morris Post 1760.
Special thanks for the support of the City of Mesa.
The parade begins at Center Street and University Drive, Mesa, at 11 a.m. Nov. 12.