Do you know anyone with the surname "Yorlik?" If not, read on.

While doing research on one of my favorite subjects, I stumbled on a piece written by a man named Jerry Kilroy, who identified himself by saying he "served in the 97th Chemical Battalion during WWII in the European theater."

He explained that anytime he needed to supply his name on the phone, he always replied that he was "Yorlik," so the person on the line wouldn't laugh and hang up when he gave his real name.

That's how ubiquitous Kilroy, the silly cartoon character with his fingers and pendulous proboscis handing over the fence, became during that war and the Korean conflict.

He was like my namesake, Chicken Little. He was everywhere.

But apparently, many have forgotten Kilroy over time.

Case in point: At the end of last week's column, I mentioned the Kilroy thing and got next to zero response. I have asked dozens of my friends and relatives to supply their own stories, and I am almost invariably met with blank stares.

Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard of the phrase "Kilroy Was Here," and the long nose hanging over the fence if you think about it.

I stopped at the Press-Republican office last week and mentioned Kilroy to a couple of friends. They showed little acknowledgement until I requested a pen and paper. As I began to draw the little guy, their eyes lit up and they both chimed in with, "Oh, THAT Kilroy!"

But when I recounted some of the legends about how and where the "Kilroy Was Here" phrase and picture were born, they were surprised.

I did more than 200 pages of research to refresh my memories and to add to my education on the subject.

As a lad in Westchester County, my mother gave me a pencil in church to keep me quiet. I won't go so far as to say I was bored listening to my father's Sunday sermons; but being allowed to draw airplanes and "Kilroys" at least prevented me from disrupting the services with loud snores.

Those were the days when I would often get filthy dirty outside church just prior to going inside. My mother, like so many others, would expectorate on her hanky and wash my face -- an exercise that infuriated me then and does still. Bless her soul. Keeping Gordie clean that way (or any other) was less effective than breaking wind against a hurricane.

Somewhere, perhaps one of those old Nazarene hymn books has survived with my renderings on the flyleaf. I'd love to find one advertised on eBay.

Our friend Weslene Goodman in Vegas sent me a recent e-mail under the heading "Something You Always Wanted to Know." It was followed by one of the dozen or so theories as to how the Kilroy legend got started.

I never take these e-mail attachments at face value, and (as a matter of fact) I seldom open them for fear of picking up some kind of virus; however, this one immediately caught my attention, and I was off and running. I knew it wasn't an out-and-out hoax, but I scoured tens of thousands of Internet references to try to confirm it. As far as is possible, I believe that I have.

I'll paraphrase the story. There was a radio contest after the war searching for the "real Kilroy." More than three dozen men claimed that distinction, but only one -- James J. Kilroy from Massachusetts -- could prove it.

He was some kind of inspector at a shipyard and walked around checking how many rivets the workers had installed, as they got reimbursed for every one they did. He would look at a group of rivets and leave his check mark.

But when he left for the day, some of the workers erased the mark in order to be paid twice.

When he became aware of their game, he began to put the following phrase next to his check mark: "Kilroy was here." The riveters reportedly stopped their erasure tactics thereafter.

It was customary to paint over rivets and inspector's marks when the job was finished; but with the rush to get the ships to sea, some parts were left unpainted. Servicemen who came aboard the many troop ships spotted Kilroy's phrase and it apparently resonated with them to the point where it was replicated thousands of times.

They didn't know about James Kilroy in Massachusetts; however, they soon scribbled the phrase in prominent places whenever they landed and swore that it had already been there.

"Kilroy was here" took on a life of its own as a symbol that American military personnel could always "get there first."

It's a bit hazy how the cartoon character became attached, but my best guess from the literature is that it started as a guy dubbed "Chad" in the UK. That's another interesting story.

Kilroy's prize for winning the contest was a bona fide trolley car, which was attached to his home to help in housing his large family.

A later New York Times article seems to confirm this version of the Kilroy genesis.

A so far unsuccessful effort has been made to immortalize Kilroy with a U.S. postage stamp. I have seen him in movies, TV shows, children's toys, in literature and on bathroom walls, but not recently.

Perhaps in my own "Little" way, I can help to perpetuate the memory of this character that was often called a "super GI" for his positive effect on wartime morale.

Have a great day and please, drive carefully.



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