The death of Mr. Keith father is a shocking event for Willie. Willie feels sad that he had just begun to relate to his father in their final days together, and his father's letter moves him. He is so touched by his father's feeling that he failed in life that he attempts to have his orders reversed immediately in order to catch up with the Caine and do his part in the war. Although Willie cannot transfer immediately, he continues to find inspiration and rededicate himself to the service because of his father's last words. This newfound credo plays a large part in Willie's maturation. Mr. Keith was not a large influence on Willie's upbringing, but his final letter gives him an effective way of helping his son.

It is implied that before Willie departs from New York, he reconciles with May Wynn. May enrolls in college, at least partly for Willie's sake, and the two enjoy Willie's ten days of freedom together before he leaves. Despite their deepening relationship, Willie still plans to break free of May Wynn after he leaves. Even when he does get away, and she is not in front of him, making him feel guilty, he cannot forget her. Immediately upon arrival in San Francisco, he breaks his promise and writes her a letter, internally deciding to postpone the end of their relationship until he is out to sea. Though Willie later fools around with the San Francisco girls and with the nurses on his passage to Hawaii, he also writes to May again, despite his resolve to break off contact. By the time he is engaged in the monotony of the admiral's office pool, the letters he exchanges with May Wynn are his chief form of pleasure. Although Willie is unwilling to admit it, he truly loves May Wynn, and the only barriers to their happiness are his stubborn ego and immature understanding of relationships.

Willie's ship, the Caine, looks like an outdated disgrace of a minesweeper. Being assigned to it, despite his extremely high rank among graduating midshipmen, is a slap in the face to Willie. He cannot understand how he and Keggs, who was ranked more than two hundred spots below him, could have received the same assignment. His ill feelings fester aboard the ship when he meets Tom Keefer, also an educated man, who tells Willie, "This life is slow suicide, unless you read." Willie is further insulted by being assigned to bunk in the clip shack, which is not even a proper sleeping area, and is full of highly explosive materials. The bunks are simply welded to the walls and he is expected to endure the fumes of the boilers and boiling heat of the sun, conditions worse than even those conditions endured by the enlisted non- officers.