AP Photo/Mike Groll
In this Jan. 31, 2014, photo Tearle Ashby poses with some of his G.I. Joe action figures in Niskayuna, N.Y. A half-century after the 12-inch doll was introduced at a New York City toy fair, the iconic action figure is being celebrated by collectors with a display at the New York State Military Museum, while the toy’s maker plans other anniversary events to be announced later this month.
AP Photo/Mike Groll

In this Jan. 31, 2014, photo Tearle Ashby poses with some of his G.I. Joe action figures in Niskayuna, N.Y. A half-century after the 12-inch doll was introduced at a New York City toy fair, the iconic action figure is being celebrated by collectors with a display at the New York State Military Museum, while the toy’s maker plans other anniversary events to be announced later this month.

Every now and then I like to join my fellow seniors in taking a trip back into boyhood years, which were really the springtime of life. The pace was a lot slower than what present-day teens endure, the luxuries much more limited unless you count the chicken dinners and apple pie with family every Sunday. 

Play time consisted of neighborhood games in the fresh air and not sitting on a couch while dabbling with a hand-held electric gadget for hours. Rainy days were for inventing ways to have fun indoors. 

The joys of the budding years may be long gone, but they’re never forgotten. 

Manufacturing model airplanes at home or at the DAR Boys Club was a test of determination, pride and a self-learning process all rolled into one big challenge. Help was available at both manufacturing sites, but honor and happiness were important. 

Riding your bike to the Ben Franklin Five-and-Ten-Cent Store with a quarter in your pocket to buy a model airplane kit was the beginning of the project. You scanned the display case trying to make the right choice ... Corsair, Hellcat, Wildcat, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-29 Superfortress, P-40 Warhawk, P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt or the P-38 Lightning. 

We built models of the same planes that were piloted by notable war heroes like Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire of the Army Air Force; Dave McCampbell of the Navy, and “Pappy” Boyington and Joe Foss of the Marine Corps. All of them were war aces, which meant they each shot down five or more enemy planes.

Bong led the Army Air Force with 40 downed enemy planes and McGuire had 38. McCampbell topped Navy aviators with 34 knockdowns. Boyington paced Marine Corps pilots with 28 kills, Foss 26. It was stuff we learned while piecing together the model airplanes.

We were budding innocents too young to participate in World War II, but old enough to understand and appreciate what our country was going through in the early 1940s. Patriotism was fierce and touched every American. Building model airplanes like the aviators and their crews worked with was a fantasy we couldn’t misfire on.

The best models produced were hung from the ceiling in the library at the Boys’ Club. It was the goal of every kid to have his plane hanging from the ceiling.

A favorite figure following WWII and the Korean War was G.I. Joe, an all-around rugged guy in a box. Never use the D-word in describing Joe. He was not a doll. He was an “action figure.”

G. I. Joe came off the assembly line in 1964 during the Vietnam War. In 2004 when Joe turned 40, more than 400 million G.I. Joes had seen duty in backyards and collectors’ shelves across the country, an amazing run for a childhood toy.

At the start of the 21st century, Joe’s manufacturer launched a massive marketing campaign to attract a new generation of American kids. The advertising blitz worked well. G.I. Joe sales vaulted 50 percent in the first six months of the campaign.

A new line was introduced to stimulate sales. The new action figure was branded “Search and Rescue Firefighter G.I. Joe.”

Kids had a revived fascination with rescue workers and the military. Fathers were able to take a figure of the new G.I. Joe and explain to their son that it was the same hero they worshipped in their childhoods.

Newspapers have carried feature stories about the popular action figure. Books have been written about Joe. Videos have spread the word about the famous character. Baby Boomers, long enraptured with the American toy idol, buy replicas so they can relive Joe’s adventures.

One newspaper wrote about a G.I. Joe Collectors Club in Forth Worth, Texas which had more than 3,000 active members worldwide. Some collectors have thousands of individual features, accessories and related paraphernalia. Newsletters are published and yearly conventions are held where club members can acquire limited-edition Joes.

G.I. Joe is a symbol of heroism, patriotism and courage. The world’s first action figure has grown to manhood with 54 candles on his birthday cake.

Giant toymaker Hasbro Inc. brought G.I. Joe to the world’s attention at the annual toy fair in New York City in early 1964. Joe has undergone many changes, some because of shifts in public sentiment for military-themed toys, others dictated by the marketplace. Still, whether it’s the original “movable fighting man” decked out in the uniforms of the four branches of the U.S. military, or the scaled-down products that came later, G.I. Joe remains an admired brand.

A 2014 Associated Press article anointed Don Levine, the head of research and development at Hasbro, as the “father” of G.I. Joe, and the person who guided the toy figure through design and development. Levine and his team came up with an 11½-inch articulated figure with 21 moving parts, and since the company’s employees included many military veterans, it was decided to outfit the toy in the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, with such accessories as guns, helmets and vehicles.

Levine served in the Army in Korea and got the idea for the movable figures as a way to honor veterans. He died in May 2014.

G.I. Joe hit the shelves in time for the 1964 Christmas shopping season and soon became a big seller at $4 a piece. It remained popular until the late 1960s when opposition to the Vietnam War intensified and parents shied away from military-related toys. Hasbro countered in 1970 by introducing “Adventure Team” G.I. Joes that played down the military connection.

Into the 1970s, G.I. Joes featured “lifelike hair” and “kung-fu grip” and were outfitted with scuba gear to save the oceans and explorer’s clothing for discovering mummies. The changes upset many toy collectors, especially those with sentimental ties to G.I. Joe and the military.

G.I. Joe was inducted into Toy Hall of Fame in 2004, six years after Barbie was enshrined.

It’s nostalgic to take a mental spin through childhood and recall the happy times.