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Deck of Cards

by T. Texas Tyler (1948); also performed by Phil Harris, Tex Ritter, Wink Martindale, Max Bygraves, Bill Anderson, Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart, Merle Travis, Dick Curless, and The Persuasions [nb: different versions have been published in Belgium (1778), France (1809), and Civil War America (1865) under the titles of "Cards Spiritualized" or "The Soldier's Almanac, Bible, and Prayer Book"; it was again popularized during the Vietnam War as "A Hillbilly's Deck of Cards" by Simon Crum (aka: Ferlin Husky)(1966), later revived for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan]

During the North African Campaign, a bunch of soldier boys had been on a long hike. They arrived in a little town called Casino. The next morning being Sunday, several of the boys went to church. A sergeant commanded the boys in church.

After the chaplain read the prayer, the text was taken up next. Those of the boys that had a prayer book took them out. One boy had only a deck of cards, and he spread them out. The sergeant saw the cards and said, "Soldier, put away those cards." After the service was over, the soldier was taken prisoner and brought before the provost marshal.

The marshal said, "Sergeant, why have you brought this man here?" "For playing cards in church, sir," was the response. The marshal asked the soldier, "And what have you to say for yourself, son?" "Much, sir," replied the soldier. The marshal stated, "I hope so, for if not, I will punish you more than any man was ever punished." The soldier said, "Sir, I have been on the march for about six months. I have neither bible nor a prayer book, but I hope to satisfy you, sir, with the purity of my intentions." And with that, the boy started his story ....

"You see, sir, when I look at the ace, it reminds me that there is but one God. And the deuce reminds me that the bible is divided into two parts: the old and the new testaments. When I see the trey, I think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And when I see the four, I think of the four evangelists who preached the gospel: there was Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And when I see the five, it reminds me of the five wise virgins who trimmed their lamps; there were ten of them: five were wise and were saved, five were foolish and were shut out. When I see the six, it reminds me that in six days God made this heaven and earth. And when I see the seven, it reminds me that on the seventh day, God rested from His great work. And when I see the eight, I think of the eight righteous persons that God saved when he destroyed the earth: there was Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives. And when I see the nine, I think of the lepers our Saviour cleansed, and that nine of the ten didn't even thank Him. When I see the ten, I think of the ten commandments that God handed down to Moses on a tablet of stone. When I see the king, it reminds me that there is but one King of Heaven, God Almighty. And when I see the queen, I think of the blessed Virgin Mary who is the Queen of Heaven. And the jack or knave is the Devil.

"When I count the number of spots in a deck of cards, I find 365, the number of days in a year. There are 52 cards, the number of weeks in a year. There are four suits, the number of weeks in a month. There are twelve picture cards, the number of months in a year. There are thirteen tricks, the number of weeks in a quarter.

"So you see, sir, my deck of cards serves me as a bible, an almanac and a prayer book."

And friends, this is a true story. I know, I was that soldier.


Some earlier versions of this soliloquy mention
... that the soldier is named Richard Pike;
... the five reminds me of the five wounds of our Lord;
... the jack of clubs represents the traitor Judas, also the knave who reported me to you;
... the other three jacks represent the executioners of Christ;
... the queens remind me of the women who anointed Christ; and the queen of hearts of His Mother;
... when I see the king, I think of God Almighty, King of Heaven, also of the three wise men from the East;
... and, the deck is divided into thirteen ranks, one for each lunar month.

It has been noted many times that the spots on the cards actually total only 364, not the 365 cited. The 1865 text contains an explanation for this seeming error, which does not appear in any of the later versions:

"When I count how many spots there are in a pack of cards, I find there are three hundred and sixty-five, there are so many days in the year." "Stop," said the marshal, "that is a mistake." "I grant it," said the soldier, "but as I have never yet seen an almanack [sic; der: al manakh] that was thoroughly correct in all points, it would have been impossible for me to have imitated an almanack exactly without [including] a mistake." "Your observations are very correct," said the marshal. "Go on."

The Red Deck of Cards

by Red River Dave McEnery (1953); also performed by Tex Ritter, Pee Wee King

It was during the last days of the prisoner exchange in Korea, I was there as they came through Freedom Gate. Shattered, sick and lame. There in a Red Cross tent as the weary group rested, a soldier broke out a deck of cards. A look of hate crossed the tired face of one boy as he sprang up – knocking the cards to the ground. As the cards lay around, many of them face up, he picked up the ace and began [to explain].

"Fellows," he said, "I'm sorry, but I hate cards. The commies tried to use them to teach us their false doctrine.

"They told us the ace meant that there's one god, the State. We knew that to be untrue, for we were religious boys.

"And the deuce meant there were two great leaders. Only two: Lenin and Stalin. And we couldn't swallow that either.

"And this trey stood for three religious superstitions that the Reds would soon destroy: the Catholic, the Protestants, and the Jewish.

"This black four," the soldier boy continued, "stood for the four corners of the earth where the hammer and sickle would soon rein supreme. There in that prison camp, far away from home, we hoped it was a lie.

"And this red five was the five points in their red star." Tears were streaming down the boy's face as he picked up the six.

"And this six, the commies told us, stood for the sixth and final wars that America had luckily won: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, WW1, and number six – WW2. Now in this war, this cold war, America would be destroyed.

"And the seven stood for our seventh foolish day [of the week], Sunday, which we wasted on [worshipping] our Lord.

"The eight stood for the eight hours every day we would have to spend learning to be, uh, progressive.

"The nine, for the cat-o'-nine-tails lashed across our backs if we ever knelt to pray.

"The ten reminded us that our ten commandments were ten stupid rules that only capitalistic fools believed in. That's what they told us.

"The jack meant that Christ was a knave of uncertain birth.

"The queen, that maybe His mother was a non-virtuous woman.

"And the king stood for our Lord God whom the commies told us didn't even exist – a dream, a fake, a joke. That's what they told us.

"The heart stood for Christ's blood, all shed in vain. The diamond signified the real precious jewel: the communist party. The club – the weapon of oppression with which they beat us. And the spade – a tool with which we would dig our own graves.

"This was their red deck of cards. So you see fellows," the soldier boy said, "that's why I hate cards."

His buddies picked up the cards, tore them into pieces, and with shining faces, walked arm-in-arm toward a simple chapel in Korea.