Military memes have become popular in the community using social media platforms as art galleries to display them.  Lot of things get memed, so it only makes sense that military-themed memes were going to be a major part of the art form at some point. All of these memes however owe their existence to the granddaddy of all military memes and probably the most well-known one as well,  Kilroy.

For our older audiences out there, a meme is a joke that spreads across the internet, whether in image, video, or text form. These memes often express the pain, frustration, and contradictions of military life, and do so mostly through humor.

Kilroy Was Here graffiti, the very first military meme
Kilroy Was Here graffiti, the very first military meme (Wikimedia Commons).

It’s quite hard to nail what a meme is because, at its core, it’s really an idea or an expression. For example, a meme can be used to mock someone in a comedic fashion, or it can even result from some fad. More often than not, these memes make use of popular culture – editing videos and photographs from viral internet videos, films, celebrity photos, and even music.

But where did this whole concept of a meme come from? Would you believe me if I said the military actually made the very first meme?

Meet Kilroy the Original Military Meme

Picture this. It’s World War II, and you’re on the frontlines in German-occupied France, and of course, you would expect that the atmosphere would be dreary, serious, and above all, a little bit nerve-wracking with all the noise. You are in the dark cellar of a house only recently occupied by the Germans and light a match to see and notice graffiti scribbled on the wall in chalk.

“Kilroy was here,” followed by a crude drawing of somebody peeping across a wall.

And you know who Kilroy is because you have seen him before, everywhere. From the latrines, to the inside of ammo crates in deep in the hulls of ships, and heck, even the Berlin Wall when you finally got to visit it after the war was over.  Kilroy went everywhere the U.S. military went in WWII as the biggest inside joke in a military of more than 12 million men and women in uniform.

Kilroy, the military meme, started as a simple graffiti that turned into a running joke across allied forces. The inside joke was that wherever there was an allied base, Kilroy would be there. It was a form of comedic respite the allies were doing to lift their spirits up in times of war and anxiety. Further down along the line, it became such a huge running joke that Kilroy would now be speaking different languages across the world.