Bridge brings the Benjamins | VailDaily.com
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Bridge brings the Benjamins

Shirley Welch
Vail, CO Colorado

Crossing the Atlantic in March of 1943 was about a miserable a time as a man could imagine.

The sea heaved with giant swells. The sky was dark gray. The constant mist made everything damp.

To keep himself from falling from the ship, Frank had to wear a big wide belt with ropes and hooks and at each side. These were attached to the rail and thus Frank was tied to the ship, riding out the monstrous waves up front, manning that gun, and praying that the tub would stay afloat.

Because he was outside and not in the bowels of the ship, he and Gordon were the only men not to get deathly sick the first few days on the rolling, heaving sea. The second night on board the ship, Frank and Gordon went to the mess hall later than most of the men and there they met two U.S. Army pilots drinking coffee.

The men chatted about the awful weather and Frank and Gordon then ate their dinner.

With their meal finished, one of the pilots came to their table and said, “With this weather, we won’t be sleeping tonight. Any chance either of you two guys play bridge?”

Gee, Frank thought, that’s a game I know something about.

Gordon looked at Frank and shrug his shoulders. Frank thought about the $600 he had in his locker, $500 of which he won in a poker game the previous evening. Giving the pilots a friendly smile, Frank said, “Yeah, we’ve played bridge a time or two. Let’s have a friendly game.”

The men set up the table. After a few games, the pilots were losing, although they had won the last few hands, and with the ship rocking and rolling, other sleepless crew members strolled over to watch the game.

With a fine line of perspiration on his brow, one of the pilots said, “OK, let’s make the game interesting. We’ll play for money, a tenth of a cent based on the night’s winnings.”

Frank looked at Gordon and said, “I don’t know.”

Gordon again shrugged. “It’s OK with me but don’t you guys take advantage of us.”

So it was agreed to play for stakes and a tab was prepared to keep score, with Frank and Gordon about $25 in the black.

That night the game started at 2 a.m. and went all night, and when it was time to man their post the next morning, it was agreed to continue the game that evening. So once again the men sat down at the bridge table.

With all the other men looking over their shoulders, with the huge ship bucking and tossing in the swells, and the sound of the pounding ocean against the hull, and with the cigarette smoke growing thick, the four men started playing bridge at 7 p.m. and continued until 1 or 2 in the morning.

This happened for 14 nights. When the pilots drew ahead in the game score, several times they suggested raising the stakes. Up until the last night, Frank and Gordon refused to raise the stakes, but finally they relented and with anticipation in the air, the final night the four men sat down at the bridge table with stakes now increased to 10 cents a point, something unheard of in Frank’s circle, stakes that had increased 100 percent since the first night.

When the game ended, Frank and Gorden left the table in a subdued manner, having beaten those pilots so bad it was pitiful, with both men being $500 richer.

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