STORRS, Conn. — When my father would declare, “It’s a good day to fly,” he meant there was cloud cover and no more than a slight breeze.

He didn’t mean that there weren’t delays at O’Hare. It was a reference to World War II, when his European tour of duty lasted from December 1943 to May 1945. A time when the weather determined whether he would be going into combat that day.

He was a waist gunner and radio operator on a B-24 Liberator bomber as part of the Army’s 15th Air Force.

I have his letters home, written from bases across the United States – Yuma, Sioux Falls, Savannah – then from places all over Europe, sent through central post offices so that their origins couldn’t be traced.

These letters, scrawled in ink on government-approved stationery, were addressed to his mother (who I don’t believe could read) and his five sisters. My father, who loathed writing even short notes, wrote to his brothers-in-law.

He was the only one out of the nine siblings to serve in World War II.

If my dad wrote letters to his brothers, they didn’t save them – or at least they didn’t give them to my brother or me; our small archive is drawn from the women in the family.

At 18, my father was drafted. He’d never been out of New York before; his parents had emigrated from Sicily and never left the neighborhood where they first settled.

Two weeks after he began basic training, his father died. He was sent home for three days and reassigned to a different group when he got back to Fort Dix; he always believed he owed his survival to that reassignment. There was no reason for this belief, and yet it remained unshakable.

Maybe it was because there was nothing about survival – or not surviving – that made any sense.

You either came back from a mission or you didn’t. And many didn’t.

Nobody was to blame but the enemy, weather or mechanical failures. And so you came up with your own rationale for why some were more fortunate than others. You thanked your dead father and your own dumb luck.

The few details that I remember of my father’s memories of the war are odd ones, or perhaps they simply reflect his unwillingness to reminisce.

I must have been 15 or so when he told me that the only meal he looked forward to when he was in the Army was chicken-fried steak. I was a kid, remember, so I replied with the haughtiness of a nutritionist: “Wasn’t that incredibly unhealthy?”

He laughed for what must have been three minutes. Finally he sputtered, “You think they worried about our cholesterol?”

When he assessed good days to fly, he was talking about heading over Axis targets to drop bombs. If the weather was too clear, the planes were too easy to spot; if the winds were too strong, the targets were harder to hit. His sole aim was to get back to the base with the plane and himself intact.

About 20 years ago, my husband, Michael, and I were flying into Munich because one of his sons was spending his junior year abroad at a university in Tubingen. When I gave my father a copy of our itinerary, he said, “Oh, Munich! I know Munich. We bombed their ball bearing factories.”

He had one other story: about how in 1945 toward the very end of the war in Europe a dreaded Messerschmitt jet followed his plane, which was already damaged and split from its formation.

The Messerschmitt was swift and agile; the beat-up B-24 was not. They figured they were done, but after a few minutes, the German pilot waved his wings in a gesture of goodbye and took off in another direction.

“I’ll never know why he let us go,” my father would repeat, especially as he got older and started remembering more, or at least revealing more about what he remembered.

For some reason, I’ve always lived under flight paths. From Brooklyn to Long Island to London to New York and now in Connecticut, I look up to see planes, large and small.

I always hope it’s a good day to fly.