30 G.I. Joes modeled after real people

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November 14, 2018
Pablo Eder // Shutterstock

30 G.I. Joes modeled after real people

The G.I. Joe franchise—which essentially invented the concept of an “action figure” and touts the slogan, “A Real American Hero”—includes countless militaristic characters. From martial artists and explosive experts to more general soldiers of fortune (and a few women), each character comes complete with a file card outlining his or her distinct personality traits and colorful codenames.

While most G.I. Joe characters are fictional, toy company Hasbro has also sought to honor actual Americans with a number of action figures based on real people. Such G.I. Joes include military veterans from conflicts dating back hundreds of years, professional wrestlers and other athletes, and even one lucky contest winner.

Whatever the origin, these G.I. Joe figures serve to immortalize stories of actual people within the construct of one of the most iconic toy brands. Stacker has compiled a list of just some of these G.I. Joes—read on to find out if you own or recognize any of them.

ALSO: Military heroes from every state

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Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Terry Spain // U.S. Navy

Sgt. Slaughter

Named after the professional wrestler of the same name, Sgt. Slaughter (real name Robert Remus) holds the distinction of being the first celebrity member of G.I. Joe. His 1985 action figure of the same name sports the wrestler's signature sunglasses and Vietnam-era military garb in spite of not actually having served in the war himself.

Nevertheless, the action figure looks the part well enough to have been a long-lasting and recognizable character in the line—and for the actual Sgt. Slaughter to have been a the G.I. Joe spokesman in commercials from 1987 to 1990.

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Marcio Jose Bastos Silva // Shutterstock

The Fridge

Sporting his #72 Jersey, William “The Fridge" Perry was available as a mail-order in 1987 and again the subsequent years. Staying true to his football roots, the figure came with a black football attached to a chain, presumably for use as a weapon. The real Perry, who played defensive lineman in the NFL for 10 seasons, earned his nickname for his large build and defensive capability.  

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gageskidmore // Flickr

Larry Hama (Tunnel Rat)

While Larry Hama may not be a big celebrity, Hasbro's toy makers viewed him worthy of inclusion in the 1987 G.I. Joe line. Hama is an actor, artist, and comic book writer, who at the time of his figure's debut was a writer for Marvel Comics' “G.I. Joe" series. Named “Tunnel Rat," this character—an expert in explosives—used Hama's likeness.

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Good Morning America // YouTube

Owen King (Sneak Peek)

Sneak Peek was an assault-rifle-toting communications expert action figure released in 1987. But what fans may not have realized was that Sneak Peek's file card listed the character's name as “Owen S. King" for famed novelist Stephen King's son. The author had a stake in the G.I. Joe line, and was responsible for inventing the character of “Crystal Ball." Owen, born in 1977, was a huge G.I. Joe fan.

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cerebralpizza // Flickr

Mike Leonard (Scoop)

This 1989 G.I. Joe was created in honor of now-retired NBC journalist Mike Leonard. Nicknamed “Scoop," the character was an information specialist with the real name “Leonard Michaels." The action figure was one of the most equipped in the series, with a backpack (complete with satelite receiver), video camera and 35-millimeter camera, silenced pistol, binoculars, and helmet with microphone.

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Architect of the Capitol // Wikicommons

George Washington

The first president of the United States rose to fame as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. As a historical figure in political and military history, it only made sense for G.I. Joe to honor the man as part of the franchise's “Classic Collection" released in 1997.

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Imperial War Museum // Wikicommons

Dwight Eisenhower

The most recent United States president to jump directly from the military to politics, Dwight D. Eisenhower served in World War II and eventually was elected as the nation's head of state. The Eisenhower G.I. Joe figure was released in 1997 under the Classic Collection.

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Public Domain

George S. Patton

George S. Patton was a highly decorated general during World War II who fought in the Mediterranean theater of the wide-scale conflict. His foot-tall tribute, along with George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and others, was part of the G.I. Joe Classic Collection released in 1997.

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Robert Crippen

The real Robert Crippen is a retired naval officer, test pilot, aviator, aerospace engineer and—his claim to fame—NASA astronaut. He participated in multiple space missions, so it only makes sense that his G.I. Joe likeness is donning a full space suit.

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NBC Television

Bob Hope

Legendary comedian and performer Bob Hope never served in battle, but Congress still named him an honorary veteran for his humanitarian services to the U.S. Armed Forces. Hasbro gave Hope the distinct honor of his own Classic Collection G.I. Joe figure in recognition of his numerous USO trips overseas to entertain the troops. The Bob Hope G.I. Joe was released in 1998.

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Library of Congress

Ulysses S. Grant

G.I. Joe released a figure based on Ulysses S. Grant as part of the franchise's Civil War series. His 1998 figure comes with a period-accurate American flag.

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DoD News Features // Wikicommons

Colin Powell

While Colin Powell is mostly known to younger Americans as the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush, the diplomat's G.I. Joe likeness was released in 1998—years before his tenure in the Bush White House. At that time, Powell was known for serving as a four-star general in the United States Army. The Colin Powell action figure depicts him accordingly, in full uniform with associated awards and badges.


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Pfc. Bordonaro from 3908 Sig Sv Bn. // U.S. Army

Francis S. Currey

World War II veteran Francis S. Currey isn't a celebrity or former general. But he is a World War II Medal of Honor recipient (and only one of four such recipients still alive). Currey's achievements also earned him a G.I. Joe likeness that was released in 1997.


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United States Marine Corps

Mitchell Paige

Mitchell Paige was also a World War II Medal of Honor recipient. He is recognized for operating four machine guns against an entire Japanese regiment after the rest of his platoon was killed or injured. His G.I. Joe Classic Collection figure comes with a prop machine gun for the figure to hold.

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Library of Congress

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was considered a hero for his part in the Rough Riders cavalry unit during the Spanish-American War. After his military service, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York before being tapped for the role of vice president to William McKinley. Following McKinley's assassination, Roosevelt found himself as president of the United States. His 1999 G.I. Joe action figure depicts his time as a lieutenant commander of the Rough Riders.

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Florida Keys Public Libraries // Flickr

Ted Williams

Professional baseball player Ted Williams interrupted his career to serve in the military as a naval aviator during World War II and the Korean War before returning to the field. He got his own G.I. Joe figure in 1997 that paid homage to both careers: The doll wears an aviator jacket while wielding a bat.

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Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made history with the 1969 Moon landing—and for being the first two people to walk on the moon. The character Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story" may be more famous than Aldrin's G.I. Joe figure, but the astronaut was nevertheless honored by Hasbro in 1999.

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Ryan Michael Brantner // Shutterstock

Charlie Bury

As he describes enthusiastically on his archived GeoCities website, Sergeant First Class Charles Bury of the Maryland Army National Guard is an enthusiastic G.I. Joe collector. And in 1999 he saw his dreams come true: Bury won the “Real Spirit of G.I. Joe Contest" and had an action figure modeled after him. If that wasn't enough, he also won a car from Hasbro.

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U.S. Embassy New Delhi // Flickr

John F. Kennedy

Hasbro in 2000 released a G.I. Joe figure based on former United States President John F. Kennedy. Before his political career, Kennedy served in the Naval Reserve, assigned to and eventually manning Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109. His G.I. Joe figure depicts him as “John F. Kennedy: PT 109 Boat Commander.”

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cerebralpizza // Flickr

Brian K. Mulholland (Big Brawler)

Said to be named after the 2001 G.I. Joe Fan Club Officer Brian K. Mulholland, “Big Brawler" acts as a jungle mission specialist within the fictional universe. The action figure was first released in 2001 and armed with a rifle.

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U.S. National Archives

Roy Benavidez

An Army veteran born to a Mexican-American father and Native mother, Roy Benavidez in 1981 earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. After stepping on a landmine in 1965 and becoming paralyzed, Benavidez miraculously recovered and redeployed to Vietnam in 1968—where he rescued a patrol while engaging in six hours of hand-to-hand combat and incurring 37 bullet, bayonet, and shrapnel wounds. The G.I. Joe figure bearing Benavidez's likeness came out in 2001.


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sdasmarchives // Flickr

Jimmy Doolittle

Months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, James Doolittle commanded what is now called the “Doolittle Raid," a retaliation strike against Japan. Doolittle received a Medal of Honor for his part in the war, with the raid being a key part to raise morale in the United States. Doolittle's own G.I. Joe figure released in 2001.

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Public Domain

Audie Murphy

Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers in the United States Army. At 19, he fought off an entire company of German soldiers while injured. Murphy became an actor following his military career, appearing in a number of movies including his autobiographical film “To Hell and Back." As part of the Classic Collection, Audie Murphy became a G.I. Joe figure in 2001.

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John Glenn

John Glenn had a long storied career as an aviator, astronaut, and politician. His 2003 G.I. Joe figure depicts his time as an astronaut, with the toy even coming with Glenn's Life magazine cover. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth and circled around it three times.

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U.S. Information Agency

Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur fought in World Wars I and II, playing a prominent role in the latter while serving in the Philippines. MacArthur had a long career in the military before President Harry Truman removed him from duty in 1951 following a series of defeats. Hasbro released a G.I. Joe figure based on the five-star general in 2003.

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cerebralpizza // Flickr

Walter A. McDaniel (Rampage)

Many G.I. Joe figures were based on people involved with Hasbro and related companies. One such person is Walter A. McDaniel, a comic book artist who worked with Hasbro on G.I. Joe packaging and box art. An iteration of the character Rampage was based on McDaniel's appearance.

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BrandonJerwa // Wikicommons

Brandon Jerwa (Dragonsky)

Brandon Jerwa is a comic book writer involved with the “G.I. Joe" comics whose likeness was used for the character of Dragonfly. While the two may share faces, Dragonfly's full name is Andrei Freisov, wears purple attire, and wields a flamethrower.

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Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond, Commanding General of the 92nd Infantry (`Buffalo') Division in Italy, inspects his troops during a decoration ceremony // National Archives

John R. Fox

One of the several African-American “Buffalo Soldiers," First Lt. John R. Fox was part of a “Medal of Honor" series for G.I. Joe. Fox received the Medal of Honor eight years prior to his action figure's 2005 release. Fox was killed during World War II when he called for artillery fire on his own position in Italy in order to defeat a German attack.

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GabboT // Wikicommons

Rowdy Roddy Piper

“Rowdy" Roddy Piper was one of the most famous professional wrestlers in the modern era, as well as a prolific actor best known for his roles in “They Live" and “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." A G.I. Joe figure modeled after Piper was released in 2007.

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lorenjavier // Flickr

Derryl DePriest (Iron Bear)

Several G.I. Joe figures were modeled after product artists and fans, but Iron Bear is based on an executive involved in the toy line. The 2012 release of Derryl DePriest's G.I. Joe action figure is an obvious nod to his contributions to the franchise.

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