- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - For many veterans, the horrors of war and combat follow them through a lifetime. It can be difficult to cope with, much less adjust, to life at home.

United States Air Force veterans Tony Munoz and his son Anthony experienced similar terrors as wounded warriors, but they found a passion to share that has helped them heal. They became military action figure collectors and turned their casita into the G.I. Joe Room in 2008.

“It started out as a hobby,” Tony said. “I never dreamed it would become this big. It’s not that we’re for war, but we just appreciate military history.”

Their 12-inch action figure collection is arranged by military history starting from the biblical era and the colonial wars to Iraq.

There are historical D-Day and World War I displays, while others were inspired by military-themed television shows and movies.

Decorated along the walls are vintage military helmets, some belonging to the family, others purchased from antique stores and hailing from countries such as Britain, Italy, Germany and Japan.

Tony said authentic G.I. Joes have an upside-down thumb, although he has expanded his collection to include action figures from different toy companies, such as 21st Century Toys, Dragon Toys and BBI Collectible.

They also have toy soldiers of different ethnicities dressed in foreign uniforms from Germany, Japan and France.

Tony said he received his first G.I. Joe action figure when he was around 3 years old on Christmas. Years later, he passed his passion to his two sons.

“They immediately took a liking to it,” Tony said. “It was a good way to spend quality time with my boys and teach them about military history.”

Anthony started contributing to the collection in 1997 after he received two action figures for Christmas.

He began organizing their collection and building dioramas and creating battle scenes, such as the Alamo, complete with trenches, army tanks and camouflage in 2012.

It took him approximately five months to set up and organize the room.

“I like to have them doing specific poses and bring them to life,” Anthony said. “I never show a fallen soldier, but I do have wounded guys.”

The father and son duo began creating their own customized action figures when they couldn’t find them in stores. They spent weekends and countless hours at different toy and craft stores looking for unique accessories and painting military items to create their displays.

They also make personalized action figures for veterans in their family and friends.

“My wife always calls them dolls. They’re not dolls; they’re action figures,” Tony said. “We don’t sit here and play with them.”

Despite the humor, his wife Hilda said she is supportive.

“Some wives would limit their husbands, but I’ve never done it,” Hilda said. “It’s a big part of both of them, and it bonds the whole family together.”

When the toy companies declined in the late 2000s, the models became harder to find, and they were sold at a higher cost. Tony said when he started his collection, he paid between $30 and $40, but now they cost as much as $150.

Anthony estimates they’ve collected between 1,500 and 2,000 figures worth a combined $30,000 to $50,000.

The hobby has helped father and son cope with their past experiences in the Air Force.

“We’re both wounded warriors. I was in the Air Force for 28 years, and I was hit with anthrax and developed arthritis over 100 percent of my body,” Tony said. “This has been a healing thing. It’s a form of rehabilitation.”

Anthony, who flew a C-17 and completed 300 combat missions from 2006 to 2010, has experienced similar horrors.

“The war is real,” Anthony said. “I’ve carried dead bodies and seen so many wounded soldiers. I still have night terrors. This helps make a bad thing into something good.”

Now their passion has been passed to Tony’s 10- and 11-year-old grandchildren, who enjoy bonding with their uncle and grandfather and help maintain the collection.

Anthony said he hopes to create movies with his collection, and father and son have no plans of stopping.

“There’s still so much history to be done,” Anthony said. “We’re very imaginative people.”


Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, https://www.lvrj.com

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