vintage army toys

Remembering My Old Army Toys


I remember my Army toys! Seeing these again is like a trip back into yesterday. If you were a kid growing up in the early 60's, you will recall that the fun that you had depended mostly on your imagination. You could easily spend your weekly-or monthly allowance on a great selection of cool toys at even cooler prices. I used to buy many of my army toys at the 88 cent store on 82nd and Foster. I also bought alot of toys in Newberry's toy basement. I had a sturdy collection of these plastic army men and vehicles. With a bit of imagination I could set up elaborate battle scenes for long afternoons of fun. When it rained, or was too cold outside, I just set up in my bedroom, or in friend's basements. When playing with them outside, mud puddles became lakes, Grass became jungles, and bushes were deep forests. There was absolutely no limit to what could be done.

Helmet with chin strap....88¢

toy army helmet

Remember the feel of the plastic strap under your chin? It was usually uncomfortable and awfully sweaty. I always had to hold on to my helmet when I ran because I wouldn't fasten the strap.

Plastic Canteen....88¢

toy canteen

It's a given that water never tasted better when drunk from this canteen. You just can't beat that taste of polyetheline. Kool-Aid tasted even better.

Plastic Mess Kit....88¢

toy mess kit

I can still recall the sounds of the plastic silverware rattling around inside my plastic messkit. Though I never really played with it that much, it was still considered necessary army gear, and looked really cool attached to the belt. As for actual army playing, the plastic eating utensilsrattling around inside were far too noisy.

Plastic Field Helmet (with Netting)....99¢

toy helmet

This one was far more cool than the regular green plastic helmet. Just like the guys in "Combat", I would often tear a bit of the net to make it look "battle worn." A veteran in good standing of numerous war movies, I would carry a pack of (candy) cigarettes inside the netting like real soldiers did.

Plastic Grenade....49¢

toy grenade

These grenades were great. The only downfall: they got lost easily when thrown. When we would play army, we often used pine cones instead. This is how it worked: You pulled your plastic grenade, pretended to pull the pin, pretended to throw, then at the last minute, you threw the pine cone hidden in the palm of your hand.

.45 Pistol....88¢

toy pistol

I remember that the holster was really hard to unfasten, so I always left it undone. The pistol was fun, but I rarely played with it. Every now and then it saw action whenever I would mimick Sgt. Saunders. Let's face it, when you had a Mattel Tommyburst, you had it all.

Combat Daggers....49¢

toy army knives

It's amazing to me how these were even released as toys. I had one combat dagger very similar to the packaged one, that had an actual hard plastic blade-very similar to the real plastic daggers used today. In every way imaginable, this toy was, in reality, deadly. The knife with the collapsible blade was harmless. I never had one, but wanted one.

German Helmet

german army helmet

When I first saw this German Army helmet on the head of a neighbor kid, I wanted one so bad! I eventually did get one, and it added a whole new dimension to our army games. Coupled with the longer, tall rubber boots that were fashionable in those days, a guy could look just like a german soldier. I have no memory of what the cost of these were, but they were great.

Requeim for a Bazooka

click to enlarge.toy bazooka

A kid in our neighborhood had this gigantic bazooka that fired huge shells. I remember being so impressed with it because it was expensive and way out of my meagerly financial reach. Unfortunately, the thing broke very quickly, bringing this big bad bazooka to an early retirement. Another black eye on the face of toy technology.

One of the Greatest Logos
of All Time

Marx logo


tommy burst

In all of his blazing glory, there were very few toys to compare to ol' Tommy.


Remembering My Mattel Tommy Burst


this was the gun to die for. In the early 60's, it sold for around $7.95 for a set which was a lot of money at the time. The gun itself sold for around $3.95. In my household, that kind of cash was way beyond any sort of extension of allowance, or small parental loans (at the usual interest rate, i.e, extra household chores, lawn mowings, etc.) My camoflage version The Guerilla model came with binoculars and a case, and a believe a grenade. I can't remember for sure.

For Christmas of 1963, I got one! MIne was the camo "Guerrilla" model as shown above. sgt.saundersThis weapon was carried by my beloved hero "Sgt. Saunders" of the immortal television program "Combat." This gun also had a shoulder strap. (Technically, Sgt. Saunders carried the brown version but, what the heck). thompson submachine gunPictured below is a real Thompson Submachine Gun used in WWII . The detail on the Mattel Tommyburst is impeccable, and matches the real gun with only a few slight discernible differences.

One notable difference: the end of the barrel is shorter on the real Thompson. Another is the extension toward the grip: the toy gun does not need to spit used shell casings so it's a bit shorter. Also, the gun butt is shaped a little differently; apart, these differences would almost be non-existent, but together, the comparisons are obvious.

The Mattel Tommyburst was so faithful a replica to its parent weapon that the attraction to an 8 year-old me was overwhelming! Note that on the toy, the barrel holding the sight is a bit longer. On a sad note: this gun wound up missing in action on the battleground of a gravel pit near our house, circa 1964. The full story can be found here.

tommy burstThe cap clip took roll caps. It only fired about every other cap, so I never really used them. Besides, the bolt machine gun sound was better anyway. Sliding bolt action:. This feature allowed the gun to make real machine gun sounds when fired. My mom always made me take it outside because it was so loud. Not bad, eh?

The brown Tommy Burst shown here is the "Dick Tracy" model. I actually found one of these in a mud puddle near our house. It belonged to the spoiled kid next door whose parents bought him whatever he wanted. The gun had mud and dog crap all over it. I took it home and cleaned it all up like new. Sure enough, the kid sent his mom over to our house to reclaim it. He was lucky that this toy wasn't the real article!

click for larger Tommyburst image.
(Be patient, it takes a while to load, but is so worth it!)
tommy burst dick tracy model


Army Surplus Gear

army surplus gear


I actually had all the gear that's pictured on this page-especially the army surplus stuff. In the 60's you could buy it cheap. I had authentic backpacks, ammo belts, canteens, mess kits, and jackets. I even had a real army tent. One day cold winter day when out playing army, a bunch of kids from the neighborhood along with myself and my brother, actually made a camp fire and cooked oatmeal in the mess kit. Naturally, it never tasted better. It was January, and very cold outside. Read more about that here.

That was one of my better army-playing memories. I suppose my favorite times of playing army were on colder days. Maybe it was because I could comfortably wear all the gear, or perhaps it felt more the black and white ambience of television's "Combat!" It was great to actually wear the jacket with ammo belt and canteen rattling as you walked. Playing army was the best fun to be had. The guys and myself would often venture off to the local field where there were plenty of trees and have the time of our lives. The bulk of my waking hours when NOT playing army, were spent drawing battle scenes, or Tarzan scenes.

Go, Tiger Joe!

tiger joe
My parents shopped at a local grocery store called "Tradewell". On the very top shelves above the food items, giant toys were stored once christmas time was near. Well, I remember this gigantic remote control tank called "Tiger Joe." It was very expensive at $24.95. It was also very, very huge!

The tank measured 26" in length, and actually fired shells. My mom would put a bit of flour into the barrel so that whenever I fired a shell, it would look like smoke was coming out.

I got this tank for christmas of 1962. My dad would wrestle with us kids a lot on the living room floor. One time when he was resting, I drove the tank over his legs just to see if it would go over them. It did.