Like most boys, my grandson likes playing with army men. When it comes to building your army, heavy equipment is easier to come by than ever. However, whereas in the days of my single digits one used to be able to buy various 172 scale army men of conflicting nationalities and different wars, since the early 1980s, and the advent of female-based parenting and schooling, the only men you can get ahold of are the hybrid U.S. army figures with the Vietnam era uniform, the M-16, and the mostly WWII Era heavy weapons: the officer with pistol and binoculars, the sergeant waving his men forward, the bayonet guy in the overhand stab, the mine detector guy, the crawling guy, the prone shooter, the kneeling shooter, the kneeling M-60 gunner, the kneeling radio man, the mortar man and the flame thrower guy.
Next week Trevor is having an operation and will be confined to the house for a week, so I gave him some bad guys that I found for his Americans of the tan and olive drab variety to duke it out with. When I was at the neighborhood pharmacy picking up my muscle relaxers for geezers with lame hips, I saw a display leftover from Christmas of tubes of army men. These are labeled ARMY GUYS, come with a label proclaiming the nationality, a flag, a flag stand and 15 figures molded in model quality plastic with wide carpet-friendly bases. I don’t like the idea of toy armies with no national identity and no unit loyalty, Americans in tan and green of the Fort Boot Camp figure set—harkening back to 1970, when one could also buy Vikings and Knights and Fort Apache, folding metal suitcase forts with attackers and defenders with real causes to fight for—and the generic international mercenaries sold in dollar stores.
When I walked in to my mother’s house and saw Trevor and his darling little sister sitting on the couch between their parents, I took off my sunglasses and hat and said, “Its safe, I don’t even eat children any more—the digestion isn’t what it used to be. Trevor, come with me. I have something to show you.”
He followed me into the dining room and I broke out the tubes of men and gave him a briefing:
“All the men you have are Americans. They need some bad guys to fight. Each one of these tubes holds a squad of men. They have a flag, which represents their unit cohesion. You always keep these men within sight of their flag, unless they’re a special guy like a commando.”
Trevor said, “Grandpa, I don’t know what flags these are.”
I said, “The label on the top of the tube tells you. These men like being kept in their own tube, with their buddies, who they fight with. Even bad guys have buddies. Each tube holds approximately a stick worth of men. When my brother Tony and Uncle Bernie were in the Eighty-Second Airborne they were dropped out of planes in batches called sticks.”
I then introduced Trevor to his troops, told him what nation they fought for, what they were known for, like Russians being tough, Japanese not surrendering, Germans being smart, etc. Within the half hour he had the Japs fighting the Brits on the coffee table. It was all one-on-one action, each squad having lost about seven men. I stooped down and pointed to the unique Brit figure with the pineapple grenade and the commando cap, and told him he was a commando and that commandos were special guys, not super men but real good soldiers—smarter, stronger, faster. Twenty minutes later I came back to the table and asked Trevor how it was going. He looked up and smiled and pointed to two lone Japs defending their flag. His father said, “Looks like a tough day at the office for the Japs.”
I then indicated, “Trev, those two Japs with the swords, they’re officers, sworn to fight ‘till the end in service to their Emperor.”
As I walked away the British commandos were beginning to taste a bit of their own medicine. By the time we were finishing dinner Trevor was asking me what the Japanese flag stood for and I was able to describe the land of the Rising Sun, in enough detail to lend a little life to the tube of light green soldiers he was packing up for shipment to their next field of operations.
The soldiers I found by accident at a small independent pharmacy were leftover stock from a Christmas shipper. A little research brought me online to TinToyAracade.com. This company seems to have eight sets of army guys for sale.
The Americans and Italians I have not encountered.
The tubes each come with a flag, stand and 15 figures.
The Germans are a field gray, with 13 unique figures in WWII uniforms. There is even an MG-34 gunner and ammo bearer.
The Japanese are an olive green with 10 unique figures in WWII uniforms. There is a sniper in a crouch.
Interestingly, considering that the manufacturer is Chinese, the rest of the figures were outfitted and uniformed in Korean War Era kits.
The Soviets have 10 unique figures uniformed in brown. These figures range from sentries to animated comrades.
The French have 10 unique figures uniformed in bright blue. The helmets are curiously of WWI type.
The British have 8 unique figures uniformed in tan, including a bag piper.
The Chinese have 11 unique figures outfitted in aquamarine with submachine guns figuring prominently in the arsenal.
Leave it to the Chinese to break with politically correct doctrine and permit toy soldiers to have a national identity.