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As the B-29s continue to fly over Naoetsu and threaten bombings, the Bird becomes more enraged. He forces the POWs to endure extreme physical punishments, one of which is to punch each other in the face. Louie begs the Bird for work in order to receive full rations, and the Bird gives him a frail goat to take care of. Louie is responsible for keeping the goat alive, but when the goat dies, the Bird orders him to hold a six-foot long beam over his head until he cannot. He lasts for thirty-seven minutes before the Bird attacks him by punching him in the stomach.
A giant Allied raid comes on August 1. Thirty-five cities are showered with leaflets urging civilians to evacuate. These cities include Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Louie’s body is ravaged by dysentery. He is dehydrated and sick with fever. Meanwhile, the Bird continues beating the men. He forces Louie and others to do push-ups over the waste-pit. When they fail to do so, he pushes their faces into the waste. One day soon after, the Bird tells Louie that he will drown him the next day. Louie and other men develop a plot to kill the Bird by tying him to a boulder that would plunge him into the river below and drown him.
Hillenbrand offers narration about the experiences of the crewmen who drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The POWs know that something big has happened, but they do not know what it is. They hear rumors, including that there is a cholera outbreak in Hiroshima. Days pass and the POWs continue to work. A guard asks them if it is possible that one bomb could destroy an entire city, to which they do not have an answer. One day, the Bird leaves camp. Louie is gravely ill at this point. He decides to walk outside and is beaten one last time by one of the guards whom he had previously considered harmless. Right after this, the men realize that all the guards are missing. The date is August 15. When the guards reappear, they act strange. A civilian tells one of the men that the war is over. Many of the men do not believe this report, but some begin to cry tears of joy.
Louie is very sick when he is handled a bundle of letters from his family, with photographs inside. This is the first time he has seen his family in any capacity in two and a half years, and it gives him some strength. Over the next couple of days, the men wait for something to happen. On August 20, they are told that the war is over. The POWs are told that they are allowed to bathe in the river. As they enter the water, a torpedo bomber appears. The men do not know if they will be killed but are overjoyed when they read the Morse code message of the American plane’s red light. The message confirms that the war is over. They celebrate by jumping, yelling, and even crying. One of the POWs retrieves a message dropped by the plane. The message tells them that food and more will arrive the next day. Another plane drops a magazine with an illustration of the atomic cloud over Hiroshima.
Hillenbrand’s narrative control is in full operation during Chapter Thirty, as she presents Louie at his absolute breaking point. With her imagery and detail, Hillenbrand allows the reader to imagine the physical and mental anguish Louie faces. Just as Louie seems he could not possibly endure one additional straw on his back, Hillenbrand shifts our focus to another narrative point of view.
Hillenbrand is a masterful storyteller who captures the suspense and drama of the war’s conclusion through multiple lenses. She shifts narration to other points of view, including that of the crew of the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb and that of a POW on the far side of Hiroshima who saw the atomic cloud go three miles into the air. While the reader knows these historical events, Hillenbrand’s narrative keeps the story’s outcome a surprise, just as it was for everyone on the ground, Louie included. Louie and others still do not know what is happening, and if they will survive. The book offers a way for people to understand the context and experience of the historic bombing of Hiroshima, one of history’s most momentous events.
Chapter Thirty presents two especially powerful images, oddly similar even as they are dissonant in magnitude and significance. On a small scale, we have the image of Louie holding the bar over his head. This is an image of Louie as Superman. The title of Louie’s first plane offers a double reading of that word, of course. The image is the vertical column of a man, topped by a horizontal bar. This image roughly parallels in shape the mushroom cloud that rises over Hiroshima and that changes the world forever. As the war draws to an end, Louie’s personal narrative is tied to the infamous bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Chapter Thirty-One confirms that we have reached the climax of the story and are starting to move into the final scenes of the story, or falling action. The climax is marked by two things: Louie enduring the physical task the Bird gave him of holding the bar above his head, and he dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. Since the reader learns about the bomb before the men do, they also experience a climactic moment when they read the Morse code message from the plane, signaling that the war is over. Due to her storytelling techniques, the reader too feels the absolute relief of the war’s end. The American plane brings not only confirmation of the war’s end, but also information and hope. At long last, the ordeal of this war is for these men coming to an end. The celebration of this moment is a celebration of life, of survival, of a tomorrow that the men did not know would come.
Hillenbrand presents a vivid cinematic moment of the men receiving the news about the end of the war, and of the celebration that follows. This is a cathartic moment, the end to a long, tense narrative. With the main conflict solved, Hillenbrand maintains some dramatic tension in the story. Importantly, the villainous Bird has disappeared. Louie and the reader still have reason to feel conflict with the Bird, and the story will not feel resolved until this problem is solved in some way.