LONE WOLF, Okla. – His operating room is a work bench in the back room of a former beauty shop.
Surrounded by body parts and the salvage of a million backyard battlefields, Dr. Neil Vitale saves as many G.I. Joes as he can.
“For some reason, kids like to use ice picks on Joes,” wonders Dr. Vitale, who maintains a practice as a real doctor. “Unfortunately, a lot of them were burned up too.”
They were really a tough bunch.
Starting in 1964, the first four Joes came from the four main branches of the military.
“They had 21 moveable joints,” he points out.
Their equipment was first-rate too.
“G.I. Joe came with a foot locker, and they were able to make a lot of different vehicles,” he said.
Vitale still has the first two G.I. Joes he got as a kid.
“An LSO officer and an Air Force dress parade,” he offers.
It’s been a decade since his cousin called and told Neil to come and get them out of his attic.
Vitale recalls, “It was very strange to see those guys back again.”
That started a search for other lost soldiers. Pretty soon, he was all over eBay and anywhere else he could think of to re-enlist the original Joes, the Adventure Team, the astronauts.
He even learned how to cure the talkers.
“They said eight different things,” says Neil.
He pulls the string on a talking G.I. Joe and it shouts, “Enemy planes! Hit the dirt!”
His army was trapped in his basement for a few years but Lone Wolf’s surplus business space solved a space problem for Vitale’s military hospital.
“We decided that would be a pretty cool place for my G.I. Joes,” he smiles.
In here, he had all the space he needed for operating and for deploying his troops.
This D-Day diorama covers a whole side of his little museum.
Vitale is planning a full-out assault on the real estate next door so he can expand.
He says, “I’ve slowly started to collect some of the difficult to find ones.”
A whole generation of boys, including Dr. Vitale, played with these dolls in the 60’s and 70’s.
If these were your comrades in arms, you can rest easy knowing their heroic acts weren’t forgotten.
Dr. Vitale’s G.I. Joe Repair Shop and Museum is open only by appointment because of his actual pediatric practice in Altus.
But he does maintain a Facebook page for news and inquiries.