History, Patriot, War

The Soldier’s Deck of Cards

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan–President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, December 8, 1941

My dad, who fought in WWII, was a great raconteur. He told stories well, entertainingly, and usually with a purpose. And the best thing about his stories was that, although they often sounded highly improbable, they were almost all completely true. I know, because I was there for many of them. (Not for the one about the prisoner who willed himself to death while being taken, on horseback, to face trial for murder, but I expect that one’s true, too.)

Dad was also a bit of a trickster, and taught us some sleight of hand when we were kids. When I was very young, I loved the shell game, or thimble-rigging trick, which we did with eggcups and a peanut:

But my favorite was a card trick which Dad called “The Soldier’s Deck of Cards.” The setup was that a soldier was sitting in church one day when his Sergeant noticed that he was holding a deck of cards in his hand. The soldier was arrested, and the following day, was hauled up before the CO. The CO asked him to explain himself, and the soldier, worried that he would be disciplined for irreverence or blasphemy, said, “Sir, I was consulting my calendar, my clock, and my Bible.”

The officer asked him to explain.

The soldier then took his pack of cards to the table, shuffled them face down, and, and went through a very lengthy and complex explanation, still with the cards all face down, of the calendar (thirteen cards laid out in each row, representing thirteen weeks in each season, sorted into piles of four (weeks in each month), counting fifty-two (weeks in the year) 365 spots on the cards (and days in the year); the clock (12 cards arrayed in a circle with one in the middle, thirteen cards total); and finally, The Bible, at which point the soldier turns over one card at a time, going around the “clock” from one o’clock to twelve o’clock (somehow the machinations of the previous parts of the trick have caused them to be sorted by suit and in numerical order) and uses the sequence to explicate The Bible as follows:

“When I see the Ace, I am reminded that there is but one God; the Two, that there are two parts to The Bible, The Old and The New Testament; the Three, of the Trinity–the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the Four, that there were four Gospels, those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the Five reminds me of the five wise virgins, and the five foolish virgins; the Six, that, in six days He made Heaven and Earth; the Seven, that on the seventh day, He rested; the Eight reminds me of the eight who were saved, including Noah, when God destroyed the earth with the flood; the Nine, of the ungrateful lepers who gave no thanks for their salvation; the Ten, for the Ten Commandments; the Jack, or Knave (at eleven o’clock), for Judas Iscariot, the Queen (at twelve o’clock), for Mary the Queen of Heaven; and, with a flourish, Dad would turn over the last card in the center of the clock, which was the King, or Almighty God.”

Of course, the story has a happy ending, all charges are dropped, and the soldier is returned to his barracks.

I wish I could remember the whole thing. But I can’t. I remember almost all of the “patter,” but I can’t recreate the layouts for the clock and the calendar to get the end of the trick to come out right. It was one of those times when, as a kid, you think you’ll live forever, and that those you love will live forever, so you don’t need to remember everything, because you can always watch it again, the next time.

But, eventually, there is no next time. And I’ll probably never get it right.

There are many stories of, and variations of, this trick on the Internet. But none of them that I have found is exactly like my dad’s. Either the segments are in a different order, or the patter is slightly different. And none of them has the actual layout and sorting component that made Dad’s version of the trick so nifty. The closest, in terms of the patter is probably this one.

And for a fun, visual interpretation from a professional magician, this is a sweet one. Not as complex as Dad’s trick, but just as nice, and with a clever ending.

To all who have dedicated some portion of your lives, or given your life, to keep us free and safe: Thank you.

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