Monday, May 02, 2005

Origin of a Motto

The Washington Times reports on the origin of the military motto "Kilroy was here." Link.
James L. Kilroy, that is. The ship inspector credited with creating one of America's most potent military mottos remains dear to the nation's heart.
On the job around 1942, he wrote just three words in presumed anonymity on the hull of a Liberty ship: "Kilroy was here."
Over time, the phrase came to mean there was no place so remote that the U.S. military could not reach it. [...]

"The phrase has popped up in the caves of Afghanistan, and in Iraq. It's still a symbol of just how great the American spirit can be. It still means something to people," Mr. Condon said.
Mr. Kilroy was hired to inspect rivet holes in the bellies of troop ships before their launch. Other inspectors used simple chalk marks, but Mr. Kilroy hastily scrawled "Kilroy was here" in yellow crayon.
The idea that some mysterious wag "had been there first" resonated with troops who sailed aboard the ships. They soon began writing the same thing wherever they landed, commonly embellished with a bug-eyed cartoon.
Once Americans occupied German territory toward the war's end, the ubiquitous phrase was said to have convinced Adolf Hitler himself that Kilroy was an American "super soldier," and the German dictator ordered undercover agents to capture him.

American soldiers have added a lot of colorful terms to American English. G.I. (government issue), Jeep (G.P. - general purpose vehicle) and snafu (situation normal, all f***ed up) are a few that come to mind. Keeping one's sense of humor is probably a necessity for keeping one's sanity in the midst of a war. "Kilroy was here" expressed not only the sense of humor but also the optimism of the American troops in WWII. They had absolutely no doubt as to which side would win in the end. Those are the elements that American troops lost in Vietnam, but have regained today world wide. Half of the American people on the home front have regained them too, but the other half are still mired in the pessimism of Vietnam.


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