On January 18, 1942, six weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 25-year-old Ewing Kauffman arrives at the United States Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois, as a seaman first class. Through basic training and active duty, Marguerite lives on her own in New York exploring museums, attending the theater and taking violin lessons. Ewing joins her on the east coast when he receives shore leave.
Ewing is trained as a signalman using lights and flags to transmit messages from ship to ship. He is assigned to the Lauraleen, a passenger ship that’s converted to a wartime troop transport under the command of Captain Edmund Crenshaw. In addition to moving troops, the ship escorts caravans of ships to guard against German submarine attacks. During one nighttime convoy of oil tankers passing through the straits by Cuba, Ewing discovers the ships are on a heading that will send them aground. Confident the mission is on a dangerous course, he makes the daring decision to alert the captain. Ewing’s calculations prove correct. The convoy adjusts its route and Captain Crenshaw rewards him by promoting him to ensign and the ship’s chief navigation officer.
In the barracks and below deck Ewing passes the time playing cards with sailors. Ewing earns the name “Lucky” from his shipmates, but there’s more than luck involved. Ewing’s exceptional math skills and memory make him an excellent card player. He can also size up an opponent and adjust his game accordingly. He wins by playing the percentages to calculate and reduce risks and come out on top. Ewing uses two money belts to hold his winnings and sends money home. He leaves the Navy with a small fortune that allows Ewing and Marguerite to purchase their first home, his and hers automobiles and serves as a nest egg to help finance his entrepreneurial venture later in life. Playing cards is a lifelong leisure time activity for Ewing. Years later he considers writing a book on how to play winning gin rummy.
"If you take a risk, sometimes you lose, but sometimes it pays off big."— Ewing Marion Kauffman
With the end of the war in the Pacific, Ewing is released from active military duty on November 16, 1945. The postwar years begin for Ewing and Marguerite in a small bungalow on 78th Terrace in Kansas City. They spend time bowling and rooting for the Missouri Tigers football team with a group of close friends, including Charlie and Marjorie Hughes and Paul Danielson. They play marathon games of canasta and rummy that last long into the night. Ewing stays active by swimming and diving, and he takes up golf. He scans the want ads looking for work.