Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, March 17, 1998

GI 442

An AJA soldier
marches with the Joes

By Burl Burlingame


GI Joe, 442nd Edition doll GI Joe, that tiny plastic hero whose jointed limbs have been enthusiastically twisted by boys since the early '60s, is as familiar as Elvis. That square jaw. That steely glint. Those hands in full, clenching rigor. Those elbows and knees jointed like door hinges. But things are changing in the ranks.

The military-themed "action figure" by Hasbro whose every edition is snapped up by collectors will soon have a local connection.

The August "Classic" edition of the toy will be a Japanese-American infantryman of the famous World War II 442nd combat unit, according to Hasbro publicist Deanna Williams.

Advance looks at the figure are available via Internet fan pages and collectors' magazines. "While we were doing research for the Tuskeegee Airmen series, a gentleman here who's of Japanese descent suggested we do a 442nd figure," said Kurt Groen, Hasbro's GI Joe designer. "The Tuskeegees did well, and so the Japanese-American just seemed like a natural. In our brainstorming conferences, everyone loved the idea."

The Tuskeegee Airmen were a famous group of black aviators during World War II. While there have always been black GI Joes, the early versions looked like the original GI Joe, except with darker plastic.

The World War II Classic Collection 442nd piece has a suggested retail price of $29.95. Other figures to be released in the series this year are a B-17 bomber crewman, a portrait figure of a Medal of Honor winner and a "PT-109 Boat Commander." It's not known if this last one resembles PT-109 skipper John F. Kennedy.

The original toy was released by Hasbro Toys in 1964, and after the initial surprise of a "doll for boys," an estimated 250 million GI Joe figures have been sold worldwide, according to Vincent Santelmo, author of "The Complete Encyclopedia to GI Joe."

The toy was the first fully poseable action figure, and the "classic" GI Joe stands 111/2-inches-high, or one-sixth full size.

Thousands of GI Joe collectors snap up each new edition of the toy.

Since the early '90s, the figure line has been broadened to include famous figures from American military history, and also to create more realistic heads and expressions. The current release is Gen. George Washington.

In Hawaii, GI Joes are available at large stores such as K-Mart and small boutiques such as Gecko Books & Comics. An official GI Joe club based in Texas fills mail-order requests.

It's not just different types of soldiers, it's different gear that inspires various GI Joes. The 442nd soldier carries a large backpack radio.

"We needed to produce a communications soldier, with backpack radio, and that worked well with the 442nd soldier," said Groen.

The various accessories that come with the GI Joes are called "finger food" around the Hasbro plant.

The accuracy of the gear is a GI Joe hallmark, one of the reasons, said Groen, that "dads play with them as much as the kids. We focus on quality and authenticity."

Robert Katayama, president of the 442nd veterans organization, "can't believe there's a market nationwide" for these 442nd toys, but is happy the toy company is trying.

"As long as the figure isn't stereotyped -- you know, thick eyeglasses, buck teeth, yellow skin, that sort of thing -- and it looks like a Japanese-American, we're pleased."

The 442nd GI Joe doesn't depict any particular individual. "We looked at lots of photographs of Japanese-Americans and gradually came up with a composite sketch of a representative individual, and matched color chips to actual skin tones," said Groen.

The face bears the trademark GI Joe scar on the cheek. Katayama says he didn't see any nisei veterans with such scars, "but with 9,000 Purple Hearts awarded, there were probably a few."


The 442nd GI Joe

This is the final proof edition of the new doll. Some features:
° The face is a composite taken from several photographs of Japanese Americans. The doll's coloring was matched to actual skin tones.
° The uniform is a heavy olive-drab overcoat and scarf, plus combat webbing and helmet with netting.
° The rifle is an M1. The soldier also carries a large backpack radio.
° the gear is typical of what was worn by 442nd soldiers during the rescue of the "Lost Battalion" in Southern France.


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