Models, Army Men, And Wargames Too

Here is one from the in-progress “Notes About Growing Up And Kin”. This one is for the little boy in us guys….but the girls can read it too.

Like most boys in the 60s and 70s I played with hordes of plastic army men and built plastic models. Even now as a grown man I still do in some ways which I will explain. But first let’s go back to the time of my childhood so my current hobbies will be understood.

I do not recall my first set of army men but I had more than one type and size of them. I had the big stereotypical green variety, usually bought at a grocery store or five and dime, but also piles of little 1/72 scale figures too. And of course tanks, half tracks, cannons, and other equipment for my little imaginary wars. Besides GIs and Germans I also had spacemen, cowboys & Indians, and some men in Blue and Grey. The color and type of army men defined the “battle du jour” fought on the bedroom floor or out in the sandbox.

As I got older we arrayed our armies against monsters not other human hordes. Our plastic dinosaurs and other creatures dealt death blows to the little men until they were defeated by our playful but serious counter-attacks. One favorite minster was “The Eep” which was sort of a large monstrous crustacean and was colored somewhat pink. A “wussie” color concealed a mighty foe – at least in our minds and boyish games.

The wars with the army men went on but they also were done with plastic models, especially ships from World War 2. I had American ships of course but my favorites were 1/700 scale World War 2 Japanese ships. Why did I prefer them to the USN’s fleet? Looking back I liked them simply because they were more unusual looking than most of the US designs. The lines of the Imperial Navy’s battle cruisers were sleeker than the lines of the mass-produced US types. And we fought the monsters with these ships too. Or each other’s fleets – we’d load up our ships and the moms would drive one of us to the other’s house for an early teen Leyte Gulf. Sometimes we added model spaceships for a sci-fi element too. Our imaginations and our parent’s allowances were the only limits to the scope of these youthful frays into the study of war.

And what happened when our model ships wore out or were literally damaged beyond repair? We “expended” them in little Pearl Harbors down at the stream. The ships were filled with firecrackers and gasoline and set afire. They went up in flames just as the USS Arizona did in 1941 on the Day Of Infamy but in this case no sailors or soldiers died. If I did not have any models I sometimes built ships with cardboard and up they went in flames too. Nowadays kids doing this would be sent to jail but none of us became arsonists as a result of this childhood tendency.

But I grew out of the models and the army men but still liked military subjects so what did I do when it was not cool to drag out the 1/72nds and The Eep? I started buying wargames which I still do today. What is a wargame you say? It is a board game on a battle or a war using rules which “simulates” warfare on that subject or scale. I bought my first one at the age of eleven – “Panzerblitz” which was tactical warfare on the Russian front in WW2. I still have it and it is considered to be a classic. And I have bought and played them since then with breaks in college and high school to drink too much beer.

And yes I buy and play them even now; I have around 400 of them in my big game room and library upstairs near my office where I write my books. And what else is in there? My “new” army men are barracked in there with my board games and books on war (and history too of course).

What Jeff? You play with plastic army men now? Are you crazy? Actually I have metal tanks, vehicles, and infantry to play wargames with using “miniatures” rules. Yep, there is a branch of war gaming that does that too. I have around 1200 1/300 scale vehicles. Oh, and I have THOUSANDS of little 1/6000 scale ships too. You can game out a sea battle with those on one of my 4×8 tables overlaid with a sheet of blue for the water.

Well, you get the picture I think. While I do lots of “grown up” things I guess I still am a little boy in my heart sticking with such hobbies. It just proves that old saying about the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Well, maybe it’s not so true since I played the same board games as a kid too…..

Author’s note: I still have many of the little 1/72 scale soldiers and tanks in a box but the mighty Eep is unaccounted for and is assumed to be “missing in action”….

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