Loudon Times-Mirror Article

This article appeared in the Loudon Times-Mirror newspaper ON THE FRONT PAGE (!) the week after the event.  They also have the article on their website here.  If they have taken their version of the article down, you can see it in its entirety below.

GI Joe: Not just for the kids

By Shannon Sollinger


Earl Boswell needed just five months to enlist about a dozen sixth-scale hobbyists from California to New York to come to Loudoun and recreate the Breakout at Bastogne on a 300,000-square-foot field at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve south of Leesburg.

Picture from Loudon Times-Mirror of Earl Boswell
Back in 1944, George Patton needed only two weeks to move his entire Third Army 200 miles to relieve the 101st Airborne Division soldiers trapped by German forces in Bastogne, Belgium.

Boswell, manager of the Potomac Lakes Sportsplex, brought close to 200 figures – GI Joes – to set up Easy Company (from Band of Brothers), complete with tanks, jeeps, MPs on motorcycles and anti-tank guns, on a sweeping slope leading to the battered remains of the village of Bastogne.

Only the green grass and humming cicadas violated the simulation. December 1944 was the coldest winter in 100 years in the Ardennes. The battle took place in several feet of snow, and troops struggled with wind-chill temperatures well below zero.

Boswell hand-sculpted every soldier's face in his Easy Company. One, Capt. John Miller from the World War II movie "Saving Private Ryan," bears the face of actor Tom Hanks. It's Boswell's way of thanking Hanks for the attention he has brought to World War II veterans, and his support of the World War II Memorial.

Tederyl Stallworth, of Cascades, is a NOVA Joe (Northern Virginia GI Joe Club) member. He prefers to create one historically accurate figure from each unit. He sculpts faces in clay, often working from a photograph, and produces a head for the figure with a resin mold.

Once the toy makers started to provide very detailed uniforms and gear, he said, "it became very attractive to track and collect military figures of the period."

At least his hobby has kept him off the street. "I haven't been in trouble in years."

Armand Gerard took two weeks off work and spent close to $700 to drive across country (with a truck-bed full of Tiger tanks and soldiers from both sides) from Riverside County, Calif., to take part in the diorama.

He was born in Belgium. His mother still lives within 20 miles of Bastogne, and remembers the siege –Dec. 17-26, 1944 – like it was yesterday, he said. From his last visit to see her, he brought back a sack of earth from Bastogne.

Gerard invited participants and spectators to accompany him and spread the earth of Bastogne on the four corners of the diorama.

"This was a pilgrimage for me," he said. "It is a spiritual thing to come here."

"No 1/1s after 12:30 p.m.," Boswell cautioned. Hobbyists quickened their pace, placing German and U.S. soldiers (and civilians – two Belgian women greet the relief column with bottles of wine) across the terrain, siting tanks and howitzers in the battered town.

A 1/1 is a full-size person or vehicle. By 12:30 p.m., the largest diorama any of them has participated in was complete, and the 1/1s retreated beyond the boundary fence to commemorate the battle.

A lot of them started collecting GI Joe figures as children. They still collect but have matured into serious history buffs.

Boswell started collecting the figures just last August. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis took his pilot's license away, and he turned to his interest in World War II history.

"If I get to talk to one veteran today, to thank him, it's worth it," said Boswell. "These people were truly amazing. Beyond description."

Boswell added the event is good for him on another level. "For me, with MS, and what MS does to me, to be able to program this and build my soldiers, even in my condition, with the best medical treatment in the world, is important.

"And I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for these guys."

The Internet has made researching and creating historically accurate figures and equipment easy, said Ed Lem, who trekked to Banshee from Edison, N.J.

He handcrafted a Calliope 60-pod rocket launcher for his Sherman tank. The tank featured a traveling repair kit, bolted on the back of the chassis: tank-sized wrench, shovel, pickax.

For more on the GI Joe clubs in the area, contact:

Boswell at http://www.earlboswell.org/.

The Northern Virginia GI Joe Club is at http://members.aol.com/bdbutler/.

For other clubs, hobbyists and suppliers of figures, uniforms and vehicles, Google on "one/sixth figure."

©Times Community Newspapers 2004