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In the barracks at Omori, Louie meets British lieutenant Tom Wade and American lieutenant Bob Martindale. These two men provide Louie with information about the camp, where nine hundred men are kept prisoner. They tell him all about Watanabe and his erratic, violent behaviors, which include paranoid raids on the barracks. Louie becomes accustomed to looking for the Bird wherever he goes.
While Louie labors with the other officers, other POWs do slave labor at other sites. Louie learns about their “guerrilla war,” which includes their damaging shipments of cargo, sinking barges, and even derailing a train. They also steal goods, including sugar, fish and alcohol.
Louie learns that the camp commander, Kaname Sakaba, is indifferent to daily, brutal beatings from Watanabe. But he also discovers that some of the Japanese working at the camp are willing to help the POWs, including by helping sick men.
Louie and the other men hear air-raid sirens and feel some hope. In October 1944, the Japanese broadcast a propagandist message that Louie had not written. The message, seeming from Louie and addressed to his mother, says that Louie is well and in a Tokyo camp. While the message is not aired in America, a man in South Africa picks up the broadcast and writes a message to Louie’s family. Due to a misspelling of Torrance, the Zamperini family would not receive the message until late January 1945.
In late October 1944, Louie is permitted to push a wheelbarrow into Tokyo in order to retrieve horse meat from a slaughterhouse. On a building, Louie sees a message that he translates to mean “B-29.” At the time, he does not know what this means. Hillenbrand then offers information about the “B-29 Superfortress” plane. When Louie and other men spot one in the sky over their camp, he and the other men are overjoyed to see an American plane there. Louie and the men get some access to newspapers, though they see that the Japanese press distorts the news. While the POWs feel buoyed by the B-29, the Bird is enraged by it. The Bird beats Louie’s head with his belt buckle. Louie temporarily loses hearing in one ear.
One day in mid-November 1944 Louie is approached by the Bird and two radio producers who want Louie to make a statement on Radio Tokyo, on a show called Postman Calls. Louie tapes a message for his family. In San Francisco at the Office of War Communication, a former USC classmate of Louie, Lynn Moody, hears the message and transcribes it.
Back at home, the Zamperinis put on a public face of accepting Louie’s death. Louise and Sylvia even read scripts for a Cecil B. DeMille radio interview. In these scripts, they speak of Louie as if he is dead. Sylvia learns that her husband, Harvey, has been wounded in Holland.
On November 20, Lynn Moody captures a message directly from Louie in which he speaks in detail about his family members and friends. That same day, a woman from the nearby suburb of San Marino calls the Zamperinis to tell them that she too heard Louie’s message. Later that day, the Zamperinis receive a Western Union telegram, followed by many messages.
While the narration is third-person, Hillenbrand’s inclusion of personal testimony and her sharp imagery place the readers in this cruel setting, forcing and allowing readers to stretch their minds. Readers see that hell can be found on earth. The amount of physical abuse that Louie experiences at the hands of the Bird is truly unimaginable. While the conditions at Omori are an improvement over those at Ofuna, Louie does not get a mental respite from extreme physical abuse. The fact that his body is able to withstand all of the beatings is remarkable.
As in other episodes of his life, Louie gathers information and learns to see that beneath the appearance of this world, there is a nearly invisible dynamic of communication and insurgency. As at Ofuna, the soldiers here communicate secretly through code and signs, and plot to take power from their captors. The POWs win back their dignity through acts of sabotage and thievery. These opportunities and small victories give the men enough hope to continue fighting. Through these acts, they feel like soldiers again. This section lends itself well to a Structuralist reading of the text: whereas communication is typically analyzed through language and dialogue, here it can be analyzed outside of them.
As a writer, Hillenbrand shows that people should not believe everything they see, read, or hear.
Hillenbrand shows how people can try to manipulate forms of communicate in order to mislead and control others. She offers information about how people use language in false ways, including the “false news,” or propaganda of the newspapers. Simultaneously, Hillenbrand shows that reading can take many forms. Louie, for example, “reads” Tokyo when he sees it for the first time without blindfolds. The city is emptied of young men and otherwise shows suffering from the war. In the city, Louie sees the truth, that which the propagandistic media does not report.
Hillenbrand allows the reader to feel a subtle shift in power and in hope in these chapters. The current of hope is similar to the earliest and subtlest signs of spring after a cold, hard winter. The harbingers of hope take many forms, such as the aforementioned secret modes of communication. Other hopeful signs include the air-raid sirens, the graffiti in Tokyo, and the Allied plane in the sky over Tokyo. This B-29, which we learn is taking pictures for use in later attack, is a symbol of foreshadowing, of strength, and of possible shift in power.
Louie’s life seems to follow a pattern in which incredible hardships are followed by incredible miracles. The hope he had for survival and for reuniting with his family are seemingly fulfilled in Chapter Twenty-Five when he is able to communicate with his family, and when his family learns that he is in fact alive. They do not know, of course, know the terrible conditions he faces. Despite the abuse he suffers and the ways in which his body and mind have been ravaged, Louie is paradoxically also lucky because he is still alive. The ability for Louie to communicate with his family is a giant victory for him and for them. It also shows that they were right in believing that Louie was alive, even when the rest of the world had believed and confirmed him to be dead. Here, the reader witnesses the power of hope and possibility of miracles.
Louie has faced an incredible rollercoaster ride of experiences and emotions, and so too has his family. While his family members might believe that the roller-coaster ride is over, Louie and others who know about the POW camps know it is not. While the current has perhaps shifted, victory will be hard-fought.