A brief history of US troops playing cards - and a magician's trick honoring veterans
War can be hell…and war can be absolute boredom. There are few better ways to pass the time than by playing cards. Anyone who served in the military and made it past basic training probably ended up in a game of cards with their fellow troops.
They’re easy to carry: small and lightweight, they fit into a rucksack, duffel bag, or Alice pack without having to sacrifice any piece of essential gear. Plus, they’re cheap. It just makes sense that the troops and playing cards would pair so well together.
The Bicycle Playing Card Company recounts the history of American troops and playing cards, though many other nations’ militaries also have a tradition of playing cards in their downtime. It just beats sitting around thinking about everything that could go wrong in a battle. As one Civil War soldier said, “Card playing seemed to be as popular a way of killing time as any.”
Wartime decks have been used to help soldiers in the field learn about their enemies and allies, to identify aircraft, and even teach a little about American history. Even in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, American forces used playing cards to identify the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Playing cards themselves can be traced back to 12th century China. Some scholars think they made their way to Europe through Italian traders. The cards (and maybe even the games) predate the United States. But Americans have their own love affair with cards, and the military is no different.
Early special decks were released depicting Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (John Quincy) Adams as the kings of the deck. By the time of the Civil War, playing cards were in every American camp, Union or Confederate.
Since troops in the Civil War spent a lot of time in camp and had easy access to decks, alcohol, and firearms, a cheater could make the game go very badly for himself. The war actually shaped the way playing cards are printed, so players could hold a tighter hand.
Another innovation of that era was the design on the backs of cards. Before then, most were made with plain backs, ones that were easy to mark and see through. The new back designs made short work of that problem.
In 1898, the Consolidated Playing Card Company created a cheap deck and poker chips for troops deploying to the Spanish-American War. For World War I, the U.S. Playing Card Company released special decks just for a few specialties of service in the Great War, namely Artillery, Navy, Air Corps, and Tank Corps. The German High Command in WWI considered the game so important to morale, they called the cards kartonnen wapens – cardboard weapons.
Many playing card factories converted to war production during World War II, but that certainly didn’t mean no decks were printed. The aforementioned cards used to identify aircraft, known as “spotter cards,” were essential to the war effort.
During the Vietnam War, playing card companies sent deployed soldiers and Marines special decks comprised of just the ace of spades, believing the Viet Cong considered the symbol to be a deadly serious omen.
As late as 2007, American forces were given decks meant to inform them about important cultural and historical relics in the countries to which they deployed.
Watch below as magician Justin Flom recounts the oft-told story of a Revolutionary War soldier and his deck of cards, which acts as his bible, calendar, and almanac. Be sure to watch til the end for a magician’s tribute to American troops overseas.
This is how the Army Corps of Engineers is helping Puerto Rico
The Army Corps of Engineers is working to restore power to the island of Puerto Rico after four major hurricanes devastated these parts of the US.
This Marine is more operator than you'll ever be
One Marine isn't taking his life changing injury sitting down. In fact: he's running. Follow Marine Rob Jones as he runs 31 marathons in 31 days.
This is the agenda for Mattis' Indo-Asia-Pacific tour
Secretary of Defense Mattis is touring the Indo-Asia Pacific region to strengthen ties with ally countries and underscore our commitment to each of them.
This is the reason Russian and Western tactics are changing
Russia might be stepping up its War Games game, but the United States isn't having any issues keeping up. Even their Krasnodar can't get past us.
Here are the top conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy assassination
Ahead of the release of 3,100 documents pertaining to the Kennedy assassination, here the top assassination conspiracy theories people are talking about.
Air Force says no plan to recall retired pilots
The Air Force says it has no intentions of recalling retired pilots to address personnel shortages, though it appreciates the ability to do it if it wants to.
Here is how Burke-class destroyers will be able to zap incoming missiles
Burke-class destroyers, already packing a formidable punch, could add lasers, improving capabilities against UAVs, missiles, and even piloted aircraft.
11 'totally real' things you should send your boot to find
Sending the FNG out to find things isn't malicious. It may look like hazing — but you're teaching them a little bit more about the unit. Isn't that nice?
This is the new version of the pup tent
This is not your grandfather's pup tent. Litefighter has developed a complete shelter that troops can carry, weighing in just over four pounds.