LONE WOLF, Okla. — An Oklahoma man has opened his own “military hospital” in the back of what used to be a beauty shop. His clients? G.I. Joe action figures.
Dr. Niel Vitale’s operating room is a work bench, and he spends his days surrounded by body parts salvaged from a million backyard battlefields. Vitale said he saves as many G.I. Joes as he can.
“For some reason, kids like to use ice picks on Joes,” Vitale said. “Unfortunately, a lot of them were burned up too.”
Vitale’s patients are a tough bunch.
The first four Joes – representing the four main branches of the military – were unveiled in 1964.
“They had 21 moveable joints,” Vitale noted.
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 his first two G.I. Joes: an LSO officer and an Air Force dress parade. Vitale’s cousin found them in his attic and told the doctor to reclaim them.
After so many years, Vitale said seeing the figures was strange, but it also inspired him to search for other lost soldiers. Soon, he was scouring eBay and anywhere else he could think of to re-enlist the original Joes, the Adventure Team, the astronauts.
Vitale learned how to care for the figures, even learning how to cure the ones that had lost their voices.
“They said eight different things,” he said.
Vitale gives voices back to the Joes, allowing them to once again warn their fellow soldiers to “Hit the dirt!”
Vitale started this work out of his basement, but after a few years, he expanded into a larger space for his “military hospital.”
“We decided that would be a pretty cool place for my G.I. Joes,” he said.
The new venue gave Vitale a lot more space to operate on and deploy his troops.
Vitale said he has plans to expand again, stretching his army’s reach into the building next door. After all, he needs to make room for more soldiers, sailors and other servicemen.
“I’ve slowly started to collect some of the difficult to find ones,” he said.
A generation of boys – including Vitale – grew up with G.I. Joe in the 60s and 70s.
Vitale’s G.I. Joe Repair Shop and Museum is open to visitors, but only by appointment. His hours are limited because his primary work is on human patients – along with working on the action figures, Vitale also has a pediatric practice.