ENID, Okla. —
I am not ashamed to say that as a child I played with dolls.
Well, a doll, actually. G.I. Joe.
Technically Joe wasn’t a doll, he was an “action figure,” at least that’s what my dad kept telling himself.
G.I. Joe stood 111⁄2 inches tall and was a man’s man. He was a soldier, a sailor, an airman and a Marine, all rolled into one. One day he could be an ordinary infantryman, the next a fighter pilot or a Navy frogman.
He had 21 moving parts and was not anatomically correct (I checked).
Joe is pushing 50, having been born in 1964, the brainchild of a fellow named Don Levine. At first, Levine couldn’t decide what to name Hasbro’s new action figure. Some of the names that were in the mix and ultimately rejected were Ace the Fighter Pilot, Rocky the Marine and Salty the Sailor.
But it was a 1945 Robert Mitchum film, “The Story of G.I. Joe,” based on the writings of legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle, that provided the inspiration for the doll’s (sorry, action figure) name.
Hasbro made millions on the original Joe, thanks in no small measure to the wide variety of uniforms and equipment available for him, from a fighter pilot’s flight suit and helmet to the battle rattle of a fighting Marine.
My favorite was the complete Navy frogman outfit, including rubber suit (which was incredibly hard to put on Joe’s articulated plastic body), mask, SCUBA tank, fins and rubber raft.
I didn’t have any sisters, so my G.I. Joe was never attempted to succumb to Barbie and her plastic curves.
Nor was he subjected to being a guest at a tea party with a group of silly baby dolls.
Joe was strong, he was brave, he was steadfast, and he didn’t break when you dropped him on a hard surface.
Before I knew it I outgrew G.I. Joe, when one day I realized that, by golly, he was a doll, after all. And as I changed, so did the nation. By the end of the 1960s, Joe’s popularity had plummeted, due in large measure to widespread unhappiness about the Vietnam War and parents’ fears about their children playing with violent toys.
As the 1970s dawned, Joe was mustered out of the military and re-invented as an adventurer. In the middle part of the decade he was re-invented again as an 8-inch superhero figure, then in 1978 he was retired.
He returned in the early 1980s, this time reduced to 33⁄4 inches. Oh, the ignominy of it all.
And now he’s a movie star. There have been various animated films, as well as two live-action movies, the second of which, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” is in theaters now, starring Bruce Willis, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Channing Tatum. They are battling an evil group named COBRA, which is bent on world domination.
Willis, better known for his roles in the “Die Hard,” film franchise, plays Gen. Joseph Colton, billed as the “original G.I. Joe.”
I like to think of mine as the original G.I. Joe. He could be everything from an ordinary grunt to a frogman, but at his core he was just a guy called upon to do a job.
He didn’t have any magical powers, he just did what was required of him, whether that was to hold a gun (no small feat with a pair of molded plastic hands) or pilot a jet fighter.
Forty years ago today, the last combat troops left Vietnam. At that point in our nation’s history, troops returning home from Vietnam were cautioned to change into civilian clothes so they wouldn’t be confronted by protesters.
That was shameful. Members of today’s all-volunteer military are generally treated with the respect they deserve whenever they wear their uniforms in public, which is as it should be. Many of those who fought in Vietnam did not do so by choice, but were drafted, which was even more reason they should have been honored, not reviled, upon their return.
Thankfully we live in a different time now, a time when we realize just how valuable the G.I. Joe’s and Janes of our current military are.
And as for the G.I. Joe of my childhood, I wish he hadn’t gotten lost in a move or given an honorable discharge at a garage sale or something. Heck, Joe was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2004.
An original 1964 G.I. Joe with the authentic scar on his face is selling for $43.50 on Ebay. That’s not bad for a doll that cost just about $4 new.
Oh, sorry, I forgot. Action figure.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.