I received word recently from a longtime acquaintance, Bob Welch, that an article had been written about him and his creation of a very special 1:6 scale custom action figure; one that he’d created to honor his son, Robert Welch III, who’d been killed while fighting in Afghanistan. Welch wrote:
“Hello Mark, Long time no correspondence. I wanted to forward a December 21st article regarding my son and a 1/6 figure I built honoring him after his death in Afghanistan in 2011. I have tried to figure out ways to send the article but the easiest way seems to be to send the web link to you from the DMN website. Hopefully you can patch in and read it. I am not trying to blow my own horn or anything, but thought you would appreciate the article since your marvelous work appears on the figures in nametags, unit patches, and such. Thanks for all you do and keep up the good work.” —Robert F. Welch II, LTC USA RET
If you’re unaware of its particulars, Bob’s story was first reported in The Dallas Morning News (DMN) newspaper and has since been widely shared around the internet. It was written by renowned, award-winning DMN staff reporter, Marc Ramirez and featured superb accompanying photographs by G.J. McCarthy. For those who missed it (and the steps Bob took in creating his custom figure), we present snippets of that marvelous 1:6 scale-related article below (edited for length). We’ve intentionally left out the emotional core of the story, feeling that it was better read and absorbed in its entirety, as Ramirez intended. To appreciate the real impact of what the Welch family went through and how Bob coped with his son’s death, we recommend that you revisit the original, complete and unedited article over on the DMN’s website HERE. As for the figure itself, Ramirez’s story reveals the following:
“About half of his (Welch’s) collection is in his workshop, with the rest in storage or on display in area museums. While many are Hasbro products, others were made by Welch himself; part of G.I. Joe’s spawn is a secondary market catering to military buffs eager to depict more specific action figures.
The table in Welch’s workshop is dotted with plastic heads and bodies and tools like pliers and cutting knives. As one of the legions of G.I. Joe-inspired hobbyists who custom-make their own action figures, he’s often at work here, even creating characters for the Texana Living History Association’s education programs. Custom crafters often start with the head, because that’s crucial: The likeness has to be believable. Sculptors and artists may be brought in. Then comes the uniform. It might come from an existing action figure, or be cobbled from several, or be personally crafted from fabric or other materials. The same goes for the weapons and other accessories.
A supporting industry has grown to meet the demand for special items. Some companies, for example, make rarer military figures — say, a Special Forces unit of the U.S. Coast Guard — or gear like canteens, grenades or rifle magazines. Replicating Robby’s gear wasn’t a problem. And while one-sixth-scale MultiCam uniforms weren’t common, Welch finally tracked some down on the Internet. For more than six months, Welch strived to replicate every detail right down to Robby’s patches and nametag. Each one was a step toward healing.”
“Hardest of all would be Robby’s winning likeness. Nothing seemed to match. But one day, in one of his online catalogs, Welch came across a figure with his son’s signature smile. The eyes weren’t his, but the soldiers often wore sunglasses; that little touch would do the trick.
Welch has since taken the figure to G.I. Joe shows. It’s a way of showing people that these things don’t have to just come from a box. They can come from the heart. Welch’s wife eventually persuaded him to also create custom figures of himself and his father in military uniform; they flank Robby’s figure on a treasured hallway shelf.”
Bottom Line: Our sincerest thanks to Bob Welch for sharing this information with us and to Mark Ramirez and G.J. McCarthy of the Dallas Morning News for all the wonderful work they did on Welch’s article (which ends with the following quote from Welch and a note about his son’s funeral):
“It helped me work through the grief. I wanted to make it as much like him as possible. It was very therapeutic for me to sit there and feel like I was doing something to honor him.”
“Robby’s funeral in Richardson had been filled to double capacity, with a five-mile procession of cars. Those who approached his casket might have noticed, along with the Texas flag and Dallas Cowboys pennant within, the small figure tucked into a crevice of Robby’s arm. Duke. His beloved G.I. Joe.”