I still remember standing as a very young boy in Sears, seeing the smallest GI Joe sets on sale and trying to decide which one to buy. There was only enough horded allowance of dimes in my pocket to buy one and no one. I can still see many of them, the Shore Patrol set, three sand bags, Navy Attack helmet with binoculars and blinker. It has been helpful that I have a good memory of toys from my youth.
However, I never remember seeing the three sets: Combat Engineer, Combat Construction and Combat Demolition. Until I bought the New Official Guide to GI Joe by James D. in the 1980’s, I did not even know they existed. These are very cool sets.
As someone with no military experience, talking as an armchair quarterback, I would have to think that a combat engineer would be one of the toughest jobs. If you are a soldier in a battle, you can shoot back, but a combat engineer has to keep building that road, or fall the trees or dig the ditch all while being shot at. They have a job to do for others, so they cannot take too much time to shoot back. I cannot image how difficult that would be. With the exception of a few films as “The Fighting Seabees”, most military films overlook this struggle. It was great that the early Hasbro designers made sets to commemorate those unsung heroes.
While I have quite a bit of GI Joe equipment, these vintage engineering sets never made to my collection. Fortunately, the collection of Ace Allgood does have those pieces and he was kind enough to share his great photos with me. (If you have not met Ace in one of the GI Joe show dealer rooms, look for him. Ace is one of the best of us!)
The Combat Demolition equipment set is a great simple set. What is not to love about a pickaxe, a shovel, three dynamite sticks and plunger/detonator? While I never had that set, it represents the fun we were trying for with the Scouts and Raiders Demolition Expert. See the attached image of the first concept model before we changed to the correct TNT cans.
The orange hardhat and jackhammer with gloves are fun parts in the Combat Construction equipment set.
Combat Engineer equipment set does appear to be the hardest job to get done under fire. The engineers would have to keep the surveying tripod, plumb level, and compass all steady while being shot at. It was a good thing it came with the helmet to deflect bullets and a “grease gun” to shoot back occasionally.
One funny side note, my son met a team of professional surveyors to earn the Boy Scout “Surveying” Merit Badge. The older surveyors have a different name for Mount Rushmore. They refer to it as “The Three Surveyors and That Other Guy”. Many of our founding fathers were surveyors but Roosevelt who was an explorer, not a surveyor. Daniel Boone was a great explorer but a terrible surveyor. At the same time in Kentucky’s history, some parts of the state wanted to honor him by naming a county after him while other parts wanted him sued and condemned due to his imprecise surveying. Surveying as an important part our country’s development and would have been very important task for bringing supplies and building fortifications to win battles.
One of the designers of the GI Joe Classic collection worked very hard to make the perfect Vietnam Combat Engineer figure. Having witnessed their bravery first hand as a Vietnam Vet, he was eager to tell their story. The details on that figure are outstanding. He wanted everything as accurate as we could possibly make it; even down to the way in which the rope was tied.
Another fun story (yes, I am full of them), was when I was brought back into Hasbro to take some of the workload off the main Joe designers. Those two designers loved doing perfectly accurate and very detailed figures but did not enjoy being bothered by having to design those low priced Alpha price point figures. While I loved the detailed figures, to me it always was (and still is) about making toys for kids. I wanted GI Joes the way I used to play with them (okay, still play with them). I was very good at pulling together new figures very fast. Since I was so familiar with all 1/6th scale toys and had tons of them, I could make viable rough models in a day or two – ready to cost.
There was a presentation planned and the Joe team leader wanted the Vietnam Combat Engineer shown but the designer did not want to show it since it was not yet finished – it was missing the chainsaw. The leader told him, “Just have Greg make a quick chainsaw for the meeting.” The designer was not amused but it had to be approved at the next meeting to stay on schedule so he told me, “I need you to make me one of those crappy, quick models you make.” I cheerfully agreed and spent the next four hours making a quick chainsaw.
The meeting happened, the model shown and approved. All were happy. A week later, the designer came to me REALLY annoyed. I was wondering what I had done wrong as I highly respected the seasoned designer.
“How did you do that!” he demanded. “Do what?” I asked. He tossed down a photocopy of the exact chainsaw used by the engineers in Vietnam. It was printed out to exactly 1/6th scale. Then he dropped my one-day-wonder chainsaw on top of it and lined it up. The dimensions were almost identical. I was off maybe a 1/8″ here or there. “YOU WITCH!” he said and left my cubicle while I just smiled. Afterwards, he was less hesitant next time he needed some more quick parts for a presentation model.
The model pictured above is the preproduction sample where all the parts are correct but not necessarily in the final colors. You can see that the chainsaw is black and unpainted. There are also neon green ties on the flack vest. I still chuckle each time I see that figure and remember that story.
There was one other set to mention. Back to the issue of “great accessory sets that shipped at different times from the figures”. The Vietnam Combat Engineer Set was created by one of the Pawtucket designers to augment the figure. It is a great set with nice detail and scale. It has many of the parts from the vintage sets but with better proportion and detail including: yellow construction helmet, shovel, ax, machete, detonator and much of the tiny gear we love to put in but often gets dropped for costing.
The motto of the Navy Seabees, the most famous combat engineers, is Construimus, Batuimus; “We build. We fight”; “CAN DO”; “The difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer.” The combat engineers from WWll, Vietnam and all our other wars worked tirelessly under intolerable conditions to help make our nation a better place and a shining example to the world.
CAN DO is an attitude our whole nation should embrace rather than rather than the insidious concept of “entitlement” that poisons our modern culture.
What is something you CAN DO to make your community better?