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Pop History: The POWs Found a Way (Sports Illustrated, March 26, 1973)

Perhaps this story about Lt. Col. William H. Means Jr. will give a new perspective to our complaints about the conditions under which we sometimes have to play bridge. It was mentioned in passing by Alan Sontag in "The Bridge Bum", but a Goren article from SI in 1973, shortly after the subject became one of the first repatriated American prisoners of the Vietnam War gives a few more details.

Col. Means was shot down while flying a tactical reconnaissance mission over Vietnam in 1966, and spent the next seven years as a guest at the "Hanoi Hilton". He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in enduring inhumane treatment in captivity. While he was in captivity bridge was introduced as a recreational activity, rubber at first. Despite having only been an occasional party bridge player before, Col. Means took up the pastime and disproved his one-time belief that he was a poor card holder, eventually coming close in a marathon 100,000 point rubber match.

One of the other inmates had played some duplicate, and the players decided to give organizing it a try despite not having any equipment or reference material, just a few well-worn decks of cards. The ingenuity and "can do" attitude that seems to be integral to the service makeup enabled them to succeed and run regular duplicate games to occupy their minds during a terrible time.

Interestingly, the article finishes with the information that during Col. Means' long absence his wife, not knowing whether her husband was alive or dead let alone that he was playing a lot of bridge, decided to focus on improving her game as well. She took classes, played regularly, and went from five masterpoints to 575 (probably worth considerably more then than they would be now). I wonder if they played together after he was released.

(A little additional research indicates that Col. Means sadly passed away in 1986 at age 50.)

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