Your Number

It was the only story Dad told us about the missions he flew when he was stationed on the USS Monterey , an aircraft carrier, during WWII.

Oh boy did we have fun, Dad would say.  We’d go out on a mission, and then head back to the ship.  We flew so low, we could feel the spray of the water from below us.  We’d fly just this high over the waves!  He’d hold his hand out at the exact height of my head.  No matter how tall I got, that’s just how far above the waves Dad, Smokey (their navigator and Dad’s best wartime buddy) and their pilot flew.  Not high above them at all.

The Japs, he’d say (before there was such a thing as PC), they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t maneuver over the waves.  We could, and we lost them that way every time.  They never managed to hit us, and they couldn’t follow us back to the ship.

And we had a blast.  Cheating death, every day.


An SBD Dauntles, over Wake Island in the Pacific, 1943. My Dad was the gunner; he rode backwards. Photo credit (via Wikipedia) Lt. Charles Kerlee. USNR – General Photographic File of the Department of Navy [1] or [2]

Every time, I asked the same question:

“Dad, weren’t you scared?”

You see, I’m a total coward, I fear pain and injury.  The idea of anybody enjoying a near-death experience, riding 2-5 feet above the waves of the Pacific Ocean, with enemy planes shooting at them, well, it always seemed unbelievable to me.

When you’re number is up, it’s up, Dad would say, shrugging his shoulders, every time.  Nobody gets out alive!

That was Dad’s philosophy, learned in the ready room of the USS Monterey.


The USS Monterey, Dad’s Ship for most of his time in the Pacific.

That was where we hung out when we were off duty — the Ready Room.  That’s also where the duty roster when up — where we’d find out when we were flying out to meet the Japs.  Each squadron had a number.  When you’re number was up on the board, you went out.  And when your number was up, you never knew if you would make it back to the ship. 

We understood that “when your number was up” meant a bit more than a flight for many of Dad’s fellow service men.

I’m not sure if Dad’s philosophy became my own through osmosis or because I thought about it and realized he was right.  Maybe a little bit of both.  But I more or less agree with Dad.  When your number is up, it’s up.  And worrying about it, well, to quote Dad, won’t make a lick of difference.

I think of this as a gift from my Dad.  One that has lasted long past Dad’s own expiration date.

There is no point in worrying about dying. It’s gonna happen to all of us.

What’s important is how we live.

We need to remember who we are, recall the immigrant roots of our country, and how it was immigrants — my ancestors and likely yours — who made America what it is.

We need to remember that to our shame, we closed our borders to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s.  Remember what happened to them?

We need to thumb our collective noses at the terrorists, and just not give in to the terror.

This cartoon, on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the recipient of France’s previous horrible terror attack thumbs its nose at the terrorists.

Charlie Hebdo cover

Enter a caption

Charlie Hebdo cover: They have weapons. Fuck them. We have champagne.

Source:  Huffington Post.

Let’s all get our thumbs into position. Oh and get our hearts into the “open” position.  Because that is who we are as people.

Statue of Liberty - Flickr

Flicker Image

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”


Filed under 'Merica, 2016, Adult Traumas, All The News You Need, Cancer on Society, Crazy family members, Dad, Do GOP Voters Actually THINK?, Elections, Elections Matter, Family, History, Huh?, Love, Memoir writing, Missing Folks, Taking Care of Each Other, WTF?

61 responses to “Your Number

  1. I am only now getting here, sorry for my lateness. You always are able to put things so well Elyse. This was perfect. I think I adore your father, you must get much of your storytelling from him. Now we also know where that saying comes from, wonderful piece of history.

    These total wastes of humanity, these governors and others, they should be dropped in a war zone for even a week. Yes, that might give them some ideas of fear, horror and then maybe empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What over 20 governors are saying and doing is an insult … and we don’t seem to learn from our own history. Well stated!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I couldn’t agree more! The Governor of Oregon is welcoming Serbian refugees, saying that over 90% of them are children. She also invoked the saying on the Statue of Liberty. Hurrah! I’m more afraid of the crackpots here in America who are gun-crazy than of people trying to escape a violent country in which extremists have run amok. Let’s be the America people around the world believe we are.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post and philosophy–and tribute to your dad. (And I also agree with the comment above about mostly young people who go to war and more inclined to take risks.)
    I just read today that Otto Frank (Anne’s father) had applied for a U.S. visa for his family–and it was denied. Another what if?


  5. Terrific post, and a wonderful tribute to your father who sounds like someone with a great deal of sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a brave and great character your sounds.


    • I like to think he was. But you know, I think that he was part of a whole generation of like-minded folks. They did what they had to do and didn’t make a fuss.


  7. awesome post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a nice tribute to your Dad, Elise. I agree with his philosophy, but have to note that there’s a good reason the military recruits mostly young people. The reality of risk settles in over time. When I think of my own youth and military experiences my toes start to curl.

    And speaking of risk, why in a nation of 330 million people should we stampede like lemmings at the thought of crazies shooting up a few venues when more than a thousand of us die early every day from smoking and more than 3,500 of traffic accidents daily?

    As a stewardess once told us at the end of a flight, “we will be landing shortly and after that, it will be time for the most dangerous part of your trip, the automobile part.” 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • As the mother of a 24-year old, I know about that risk thingy! MY toes curl while waiting for my son to get a little bit older …

      With your background, I bet you have some stories to tell. But like my dad, I bet you keep most of them close to the vest. Dad never talked about his military experiences (except the practical joke he used to play on the officers) until he met my husband, who is interested in military history, and my niece’s husband who is in the Air Force. And we had asked, really!

      The way our country responded to 9/11 has always bothered me. Because as you pointed out, in many respects we court death every day. And that doesn’t even count the fact that we think it’s a-okay for every ‘Merican to be armed to the teeth (but not them immigrants, not them no sir).

      We need to adopt the attitude of the Brits when they faced first the Blitz and later the IRA.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think your dad–and you–have the right philosophy. I try to live by that creed too, but I’m not always successful. That’s why it’s good to have reminders like this. Your dad sounds like he was a cool guy. Then again, I’m not surprised, because he’s got a cool daughter!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. True, there’s no point in worrying about dying but you can try to avoid the inevitable by putting a little distance between the water and your plane. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think the motto on the Statue of Liberty should now say ” “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but no more than 10 thousand people, and only to the states with Democratic governors. “

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Your dad was a very smart man – thank you for this message 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Glazed

    What, me worry? I like your Dad’s spirit. As for terrorists and refugees, I understand that at least some of the terrorists in France were not very devout Muslims. One owned a bar. They were also involved in drugs and petty crimes. Perhaps it’s hypocrites we should fear, and not the truly devout, whether they be Muslim or any other religion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • YES! Let’s fear the hypocrites. And the assholes. The list will grow.

      If a person believes, that’s fine. It’s the folks who use religion to espouse hate, that kill, that engender fear. Fuck those folks.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I love this post. Some of history’s fiercest warriors were also believers in the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Everything was already decided, so what the hell? It didn’t matter what you or did not do, you were gonna die when God was damn well ready for you to die. May as well go out with a bang. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, especially as it applies to recent events….

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks. I’d like to be really articulate here and talk about isolating oneself or one’s nation, trying to be safe. It doesn’t work. There are risks all around and if we refuse to take any, we refuse to live and experience the rewards, as well. I’m not being as articulate as I’d like…

    My son is in the military. People ask how we feel about that, are we worried. The answer is “no.” Of course yes, but mostly no. However, it was right. It IS right. Worrying won’t make anything better and in fact will only hurt, both him and me. Best not to worry….

    THanks for telling us about your dad. He sounds like he was a good man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a terrific comment, Melanie. You’re right — life in a bubble is no life at all.

      I understand what you mean about worrying. It DOESN’T make a difference, and I’m glad you know that. It took me a long time to “get it.” I used to worry constantly about my husband, who flew a lot. Then my sister, who I never worried about, died unexpectedly. So I realized that worrying just wasn’t going to make a damn bit of difference.

      Thanks too for your nice comment on my Dad. He was a gem. I am lucky to have been/to be his daughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow, we sure are kindred spirits! My Dad used to say the same thing “No one gets out of this life alive.”
    And we can’t live in fear, we just can’t. I am so with you on this one! Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m guessing that that was the mantra of our Dads’ generation. They faced so much — war, depression, the nuclear age, us as kids …

      When I read your post, I kind of laughed. It’s like we were ships, not passing in the night, but moseying along together.

      Liked by 1 person

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