snopes.com Post new topic  Post a reply
search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hello snopes.com » Urban Legends » Military » Ace of Spades as calling card

 - UBBFriend: Email this page to someone!    
Author Topic: Ace of Spades as calling card
snopes
Return! Return! Return!


Icon 600 posted      Profile for snopes   Author's Homepage   E-mail snopes       Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
Comment: Did soldiers in Vietnam use the Bicycle Ace of Spades as a calling card
placed on their victims? Sounds hokey to me, but with the sniper and the
tarot card sites are popping up saying they special ordered full decks of
Ace of Spades for Bicycle. Ermmm

First I had heard of this before the sniper was in a Kurt Vonnegut book; I think it was Hocus Pocus. Vonnegut often uses folk stories in his books (I think he actually went to University of Indiana and studied under Robert Redfield). But it is PLAUSIBLE. So was there a case of soldiers in Vietnam using Ace of Spade "calling cards"?

Posts: 36029 | From: Admin | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Dark Jaguar
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


Icon 01 posted      Profile for Dark Jaguar   E-mail Dark Jaguar   Send new private message       Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
Ace of Spades eh? I'd think a fighter would rather be called the King of Hearts.

Obscure reference, away!

Posts: 958 | From: United States | Registered: Dec 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
The Slighty Scary Otter
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 01 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
Col Kilgore in Apocalypse Now does this, dropping playing cards on enemy dead.

Custom playing card decks are available with military unit crests. I've seen them with the backings of the yellow shield and horse-head of the 1st Cavalry Division, the Big Red One of the 1st Infantry Division, and the Screaming Eagle of the 101st Airborne Division.

It was more of a calling card, like the 101st was here.

IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
MisterGrey
Little Sales Drummer Boy


Icon 01 posted      Profile for MisterGrey     Send new private message       Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
A substitute we had last year fought in Vietnam, and amongst the stories he told our class was one about "death cards." He didn't specify that they used certain suits or numbers, just that they playing cards on the enemy corpses so the Vietcong would know who was responsible. So, unless he was lying to us, yes, this was done, at least by some units.
Posts: 2711 | From: Texas | Registered: Sep 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Kiefer Wombat, Average Son
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 210 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Mister Grey:
A substitute we had last year fought in Vietnam, and amongst the stories he told our class was one about "death cards." He didn't specify that they used certain suits or numbers, just that they playing cards on the enemy corpses so the Vietcong would know who was responsible. So, unless he was lying to us, yes, this was done, at least by some units.

Depending on how he told the story, it may not be true even if he wasn't lying. Did he tell it as if this was something he personally witnessed, or could it have been a rumor he heard while he was in the war?

And, whether it's true or not, why playing cards? What is their significance?

IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
teeeee tiny
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 209 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
I always thought the Ace of Spades was a symbol for being a "short timer" with less than a certain amount of time left on a Vietnam tour. Less than 30 days or something. I dunno where I heard that.
IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
meanjelly
Happy Holly Days


Icon 01 posted      Profile for meanjelly     Send new private message       Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
In WWII the playing card suits repersented different units. I think it was the 101st who put the symbols on their helments, a different suit for A,B,C, and D companies to tell them apart after their jump into D-Day.

Could the use of cards or the rumor of the use of cards come from this?

--------------------
Education... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.
G. M. Trevelyan (1876 - 1962), English Social History (1942)

Posts: 1443 | From: Portland, OR | Registered: Jun 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Ursa Major
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 01 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
quote:
And, whether it's true or not, why playing cards? What is their significance?
Because they are the cheapest, most desposable, and most readily available monogramed item available to a military unit.
IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Kiefer Wombat, Average Son
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 01 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Ursa Major:
quote:
And, whether it's true or not, why playing cards? What is their significance?
Because they are the cheapest, most desposable, and most readily available monogramed item available to a military unit.
Yeah, but what about the version of the legend snopes posted above, in which the cards are said to be just regular Bicycles, not monogrammed at all? I guess I'm really more interested in the legend than in the reality here. It makes sense that the soldiers would leave special cards behind to indicate which unit they belonged to, but I think it's interesting that the story could have spread without this crucial detail.
IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Ursa Major
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 01 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
I don't know how reliable this site is but there's a picture of one of the purported specially made decks.

Secret Weapon BICYCLE Aces of Spades by.... Unfortunately, the rest of the printing on the box is obscured.

quote:
Classic Ace of Spades death cards left behind as a reminder. An official, Psych war, issue item the Ace of Spades is a card equated with death in many cultures, The enemy understood the message very well.

IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Robert
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 209 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
I just got the E-mail today. At the bottom of the message, it has the signature:
Mary Beth Johnson
LtCol, USMC

Now, that might be made up. Ya'll decide.

IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Island Manta
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


Icon 211 posted      Profile for Island Manta   E-mail Island Manta   Send new private message       Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
Aces and 8s were the 'death' hand from ...um...Wild Bill Hicock was holding when he was shot, probably where the part came in about 'aces'

-K

--------------------
"You never know when you will be attacked by a wild tortilla" - José Zavala
"Happiness isn't happiness without a violin playing goat"
Be good and you will be lonesome

Posts: 3569 | From: USVI | Registered: Jun 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Bonnie
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 602 posted      Profile for Bonnie   E-mail Bonnie       Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
Following up on Ursa Major’s earlier post ...

An article in The Wall Street Journal mentioned that,

quote:
[c]ards even became a weapon of war during the Vietnam conflict. At the Pentagon's request, U.S. Playing Card shipped three million aces of spades to U.S. troops there. The GIs had discovered that the Vietcong had a morbid fear of the ace of spades -- considered the "death card" by many cultures -- and generally avoided buildings, tanks and anything else adorned with the card. [From Jolie B. Solomon's "U.S. Playing Card, Hit by Video Games, Bids for a Fresh Deal," 18 January 1984.]
In fact, US Playing Card [1] reports the same,

quote:
During the war in Vietnam, at the request of the United States government, USPC shipped thousands of decks containing nothing but the "Bicycle" Ace of Spades. The Viet Cong were very superstitious and highly frightened by this Ace. These decks were housed in plain white tuckcases and inscribed, "Bicycle Secret Weapon." The cards were deliberately scattered in the jungle and in hostile villages during raids causing many Viet Cong to flee at the sight of them.
More from US Playing Card,

quote:
The Ace of Spades served a famous purpose in the war in Vietnam. In February, 1966, two lieutenants of Company "C," Second Battalion, 35th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, wrote The United States Playing Card Company and requested decks containing nothing but the "Bicycle" Ace of Spades. The cards were useful in psychological warfare. The Viet Cong were very superstitious and highly frightened by this Ace. The French previously had occupied Indo-China, and in French fortunetelling with cards, the Spades predicted death and suffering. The Viet Cong even regarded lady liberty as a goddess of death. USPC shipped thousands of the requested decks gratis to our troops in Vietnam.
A pack of the "Secret Weapon Bicycle 808" is viewable here.

Anyway, more on GIs' use of the ace of spaces here,

http://www.pokerproducts.com/ace.htm
http://www.parascope.com/ds/1096/psydoc02.htm
http://www.warmuseum.org/helmet.htm

Googling for "ace of spades" and "Viet Cong" will lead you to veterans' reports of the practice mentioned here,

quote:
We carried aces of spades and it was kind of like a game. When we killed someone, you plant an ace of spades on him and you'd pose with the body because it was something really cool to do, to show everybody how many people you'd killed.
-- Bonnie

[1] Interestingly, US Playing Card also appears to have designed special cards for GIs in Europe during WWII,

quote:
Throughout the 1900's, USPC has contributed to America's military efforts. One of the most noteworthy contributions was the special "Escape Route" deck the company produced during World War II. The deck featured a map with escape routes out of Germany on the interior side of the cards, which could be revealed by soaking them in water and removing the faces of the cards.


--------------------
Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

Posts: -99014 | From: Chapel Hill, North Carolina | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
CGS
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 210 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
Wow, I wait several days for my registration to clear so that I can respond to this post, and when I finally log in, I find that Bonnie has beaten me to the punch. Ah, well. Such is life.

There is a little more to the story. The belief that the Vietnamese feared the Ace of Spades was a misconception, as is evidenced by this quote from a document concerning psychological operations policy with respect to exploiting superstitions:

As an illustration, one can cite the recent notion spread among combat troops in the First Corps area that VC and NVN troops were deathly afraid of the "Ace of Spades" as an omen of death. In consequence soldiers, turned psy-warriors with the assistance of playing card manufacturers, began leaving the ominous card in battle areas and on patrols into enemy-held territory. The notion was based on isolated instances of behavior among Montagnard tribesmen familiar from French days with the Western deck of cards. A subsequent survey determined that the ace of spades does not trigger substantial fear reactions among most Vietnamese because the various local playing cards have their own set of symbols, generally of Chinese derivation.

The Montagnards are the indigenous people of Vietnam, and have the same kind of relationship with the Vietnamese that aborigines or Native Americans have with the immigrant majorities of Australia, the United States, and Canada. To put a finer point on it, they are ethnically and culturally distinct from the Vietnamese.

The belief that the Vietnamese feared the Ace of Spades spread, like an urban legend, through the American ranks. So did the practice of requesting Bicycle's "Secret Weapon" decks and leaving the cards at the sites of raids and battles. Far from being ominous and frightening to the Vietnamese, it was simply a strange practice with no real meaning. So psychological operations specialists set themselves to the task of equating the Ace of Spades with death.

This explains the curious leaflet that Bonnie links to in her post, and why it was necessary for psychological operations specialists to inform the Viet Cong that the Ace of Spades was a frightening symbol of death.

IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Bonnie
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 209 posted      Profile for Bonnie   E-mail Bonnie       Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
Wow, CGS, you should've beaten me to the punch. Thanks for the clarification and all the helpful information, which I totally missed. And welcome to the SFVFSULRPULMB!

Bonnie "royally flushed" Taylor

--------------------
Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

Posts: -99014 | From: Chapel Hill, North Carolina | Registered: Feb 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
CGS
The Red and the Green Stamps


Icon 82 posted            Edit/Delete post   Reply with quote 
I was going to use most of the same sites that you did for reference, anyway. No harm in that. In fact, it saved me some typing! So it's all good.

And thank you very much for the nice welcome. I appreciate it!

IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.

Instant Graemlins
   


Post new topic  Post a reply Close topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Urban Legends Reference Pages

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2