In early 1945, some men arrive from Ofuna, including some of Louie’s friends, Bill Harris among them. Louie sadly sees Harris’s terrible mental and physical condition, and learns of the continued beatings Harris had experienced even after Louie left Ofuna. With his friends there, Louie dreads the day when he will be sent to the punishment camp. He and the other men also live in fear of what will happen to all of them. They hear reports about Allied victories elsewhere, but they also hear of a massacre of some POWs, when a “kill-all” order was put into action.
On February 16, the POWs watch a battle between American and Japanese fighter planes. Hillenbrand informs readers that fifteen hundred American planes flew over the POWs that day. At the end of the month, Louie and other men are told that they will be going to a camp 4B, also known as Naoetsu. They are transported to the snow-covered west coast of Japan by truck and then train. When they arrive at the camp, Louie is thrown into shock and panic when he is greeted by the Bird.
Louie realizes that the reason why he had been kept alive, from Kwajalein to Ofuna to Omori, is so that he could be used as a propaganda tool in order to embarrass America and to undermine American soldiers’ belief in the government. He shows his patriotism by refusing to be used as a tool. On a personal level, he understands that preserving his own dignity is of the utmost importance. He sees men who surrendered their own dignity by consenting to be propaganda tools. While their bodies are well served by the provision of food and shelter, Louie sees that they have sold their souls and have lost their dignity. Preservation of dignity is an important theme here and in future sections of the story. In sharing Louie’s experience, Hillenbrand allows the reader to consider that preservation of one’s sense of self should perhaps be a stronger driving force than physical desires, even desire for food.
Louie shows great strength in refusing to read the propagandistic message and resisting what must have been incredible temptations of food, shelter, and sleep. Louie’s experience here is similar to that of Tantalus in The Odyssey. Odysseus sees Tantalus in the underworld, where Tantalus experiences eternal punishment in the form of being surrounded by food and drink but unable to reach either. The word “tantalizing” comes from this character’s name.
As war rages on, the captive soldiers are able to celebrate small victories in Chapter Twenty-Six, notably the departure of the Bird from Omori. These victories propel the men forward, toward the day when they hope they will be free. The POWs’ survival is enabled by secretive maneuvers, including theft of food. The men are brought to life by the chance to stage a production of Cinderella, which shows that art and a sense of humor can help people survive terrible conditions.
However, war is relentless, and so too are Louie’s continued experiences of suffering. Hope seemed to have dawned, but at the end of this section, Louie is about to be submerged once more under darkness. When Chapter Twenty-Seven ends with Louie’s encounter of the Bird at a camp on the other side of Japan, the reader can feel the physical reaction to the sight of the tyrant and to the sound of his voice. Hillenbrand once again demonstrates her abilities to control tempo and dramatic tension. She is like a musical conductor controlling the dramatic symphony of this story. Simultaneously, she has cinematic control, as demonstrated by the strong and shocking visual imagery of the Bird. The ending of this chapter demonstrates why filmmakers would want to adapt this story to screen. Hillenbrand makes that work easy.