G.I. Joe lovers hold a boot camp in Kansas City.

Dolled up for War 

G.I. Joe lovers hold a boot camp in Kansas City.

Little boys aren't supposed to play with dolls, but when Hasbro introduced G.I. Joe in 1964, 15,000 U.S. troops were already in Vietnam and tensions were escalating. What better time for an eleven-and-a-half-inch soldier doll with 21 moving parts and a macho scar on his face to "save the world, one backyard at a time"?

The butch doll was a hit and outlasted the Vietnam War, antiwar protests and the kung fu craze (which gave G.I. Joe a "kung fu grip" in 1974) before the toy lost favor and was "retired" by Hasbro in 1977. Smaller, less doll-like G.I. Joe action figures would stay on the market for twenty years, but the classic Joe would remain AWOL until 1991, when a toy buyer for Target stores urged Hasbro to test market an old-style G.I. Joe. The entire "test" shipment sold out the first day.

Overland Park developer Jim Bush, 36, saw one of these "Masterpiece Collection" G.I. Joes in 1997, bought it and promptly ransacked his parents' basement looking for his original doll. "My dad bought [it for] me when I was four because I pestered him after seeing it on TV," Bush says. He found the original and now owns more than a hundred vintage G.I. Joes and is a member of the International G.I. Joe Collectors' Club, which will hold its fifth annual convention in Kansas City this weekend.

Bush joins more than 500 G.I. Joe enthusiasts ("about 80 percent male," says Brian Savage, who oversees the Texas-based G.I. Joe Collectors' Club and owns hundreds of G.I. Joes) attending this boot camp, which includes sales of rare G.I. Joe accessories (such as the hard-to-find 1968 Crash Crew Fire Truck), classes on building lifelike dioramas, a reenactment of the D-Day capture of the Pegasus Bridge and a members-only dinner with a dress code: business casual or favorite military uniform.

Savage says the convention is a "family event," but Bush calls the gathering more of a "nostalgia thing for adults. My six-year-old son, Joe, is only interested in G.I. Joe for about twenty minutes at a time, then he goes back to his video games."

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