Note: This series covers GI-Joe from 1982 forward, not the original line of dolls from the 1960’s.
It all started in Vietnam.
Joseph Colton graduated at the top of his class at West Point in 1960 and was recruited into Special Forces, eventually becoming a Green Beret while serving in Vietnam. By 1963 his skills as a leader and combatant caught the attention of his higher-ups, and he was summoned to Washington D.C. where he met President Kennedy to discuss the formation of a new, top-secret Army unit, answerable only to the president himself. In honor of Colton’s assignment as the founding member, the team would be codenamed “G.I. Joe.” (source) It is at this moment that the GI-Joe team had it’s initial inception, but while the history of key team members is detailed between now and their first mission, the team itself is almost entirely unexplored. As such, I will do my best to fill in the gaps with what we do know.
Also, it should be noted that the timeline established within the pages of the comics meshes with the releases of the toy line. The GI-Joe 12-inch action figures were created by Stan Weston in 1963 (then going into mass production by Hasbro Toys in 1964), and then re-launched in 1982 as the ¾” figures we know today.
While the comics don’t definitively state that Colton accepted Kennedy’s offer, his later involvement in the series implies that he ultimately did take up the mantle of leadership, and was instrumental in the formation of the team even if he wasn’t an active member after the team was fully realized. This is supported by the fact that he is not part of the team when the comic series launched in 1982, wasn’t part of any of their initial assignments/missions, and doesn’t appear in the comics at all until issue #86 (source).
In addition to Joseph Colton, several other future ‘Joes served in active duty during Vietnam, but the key to the entire GI-Joe team and their future conflicts is Snake Eyes.
Snake Eyes, who’s real name has never been revealed, joined the Army in his late teens or early 20’s; after completing basic, he signed up for advanced training, including paratrooper and ranger school. By 1968 his family believed him bound for officer training, but his unit was called up to ship out to Vietnam, leading his father to warn him that “Luck runs out quick…you step up to gamble one more time, and the next thing you know…snake-eyes.” (source)
Snake Eyes arrived in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and was assigned to MACV-SOG. However, upon arrival at the safehouse, his Jeep was attacked in a drive-by shooting, killing the driver and wounding the other two soldiers he was traveling with; Thomas Arashikage and Lonzo Wilkinson.
Their attackers then went on to meet up with and murder the Baron de Cobray, who was delivering medical supplies on a humanitarian mission. Snake Eyes arrived in time to witness the murder, but Baron DeCobray’s sister, the Baroness Anastasia Cisarovna DeCobray, entered a moment later to find her brother and his attackers dead, with Snake Eyes standing over all three of them - smoking gun in hand. Naturally, she assumed Snake Eyes murdered her brother, and later swore vengeance against him. (source)
While Arashikage and Wilkinson recovered from their wounds, Snake Eyes reported to his Long Range Recon Patrol (LRRP) team and began his tour of duty. Arashikage later joined Snake Eyes on the LRRP team, and when their team leader is killed in action, Wilkinson was reassigned and joined them as team leader. (source)
It is unknown exactly how long this team served together - only that it was ultimately broken up when they stumbled upon a VietCong platoon and were nearly wiped out. Every member was killed except for Wilkinson, Arashikage, and Snake Eyes, who was severely wounded and sent home only to discover that his parents and twin sister, Terri, were killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver (the bearer of this bad news was Colonel Clayton Abernathy - who would remember this fateful meeting later when filling out the ranks of the GI-Joe team). (source)
Tune in next time to learn the dark origin of Cobra Commander, and how he’s connected to it all!
Check out part one of "The History of GI-Joe" by Brian Sheridan.