Summary: Chapter 38, A Beckoning Whistle

The narration shifts again to Tokyo, where the Bird appears to speak to his mother. He is not detected, even as police continue to search for him. Mother and son agree to meet two years later, provided the Bird is still alive then.

The narration shifts again to the arrival of Billy Graham, the Christian preacher, in Los Angeles. At this point, Cynthia and Louie agree to live together until their divorce is finalized. One day they talk to neighbors of theirs who mention Graham’s preaching. Cynthia is intrigued and decides to attend that night’s event.

Graham’s preaching fills Cynthia with new hope. She tells Louie that she will not divorce him. For days, Cynthia tries to talk Louie into attending a Graham event with her. He finally consents and enters the event tent ready to leave as quickly as possible. Louie is surprised to be pulled by the Biblical story Graham shares. In the story, Jesus asks the men who accuse the women of adultery to examine themselves, and Jesus then forgives the woman and tells her to “sin no more.”

Graham’s explanation that God sees and records your life causes Louie to examine himself. While he wants to see himself as a good person, he sees the anger in himself. When Graham offers the chance to repent and to be forgiven, Louie escapes the tent. That night, Louie is haunted again by the Bird, but he recognizes that the face is that of the devil.

Louie reluctantly agrees to return to hear Graham again. That night, Graham preaches about the care with which God created everything. Louie recalls the gratitude he felt when he encountered the doldrums years before on the raft. Louie recalls more memories, including of when Green Hornet went down, and he survived. Overcome by emotions, Louie again charges for the exit, but just as he is about to exit, he remembers a pledge he had made on the raft: “If you save me, I will serve you forever.” He becomes a changed man and responds to Graham’s invitation to come forward.

Back home, Louie pours his alcohol down the drain and discards of cigarettes and other temptations of his negative past. When he sleeps that night, he does not dream of the Bird. He never dreams of him again. The next day, he starts to read the Bible.

Summary: Chapter 39, Daybreak

In 1950, Louie returns to Japan. For the previous year, ever since his experience with Billy Graham, Louie has made a modest living as a Christian speaker. He travels around America and tells his story. He and Cynthia, along with baby Cissy, live modestly but happily.

At Sugamo Prison, Louie encounters nearly a thousand former guards, including some he recognizes. He sees the Quack and Sasaki, among others. Louie does not see the Bird and asks about him. He is told that the Bird killed himself. Louie is now able to see the Bird as a man and nothing more. He even feels compassion for him.


Chapter Thirty-Eight moves the book toward final resolution. Some lingering interior conflicts are solved, not only with Louie but also with the Bird’s mother. Like a puppeteer controlling the motions of more than one puppet, Hillenbrand controls both of these narratives with a delicate touch.

In presenting the point of view of the Bird’s mother, Hillenbrand rounds out the characterization of characters and humanizes the Japanese antagonists. She forces the reader to see that even the tyrant has a mother who wants to see her son and who is desperate to spend just minutes with him. Just as Louie’s mother loves Louie and longed for him to return home, so too does the Bird’s mother love. The Bird’s mother also finds peace in seeing her son after their separation. In turn, this characterization allows the reader also to resolve feelings of pure antagonism against these characters.

On the other side of the Pacific, Hillenbrand presents Louie and his conversion experience, which Louie experiences in contractions, not unlike the birth of a baby. Louie is in fact reborn as a person able to shed the resentment, anxiety, and dependency that had plagued him. But he does not enter his conversion experience willingly. Instead, he enters skeptically. Over and over again, Louie resists Cynthia’s pleas to accompany him to hear Billy Graham before finally experiencing it and being pulled into a new life. Hillenbrand offers Louie’s conversion experience without skepticism and in ways that pull together threads she places across the entire book. If anything, one could possibly accuse the story of underscoring the miraculous element, particularly when Louie claims that it starts to rain inside the tent.

On a secular level, Louie’s experience offers insight into ideas that can help people find peace and healing. The Biblical stories and Graham’s preaching speak to Louie and help him reconcile his wartime experiences. He is able to reframe those experiences and to see his experiences as miraculous acts of God. This reframing gives Louie the salvation he needed, freeing him from his hatred and need for revenge. He now sees his life in terms of divine love having saved him on numerous occasions. While Louie had been stuck on his revenge for the Bird, he had not focused on the moments when he had felt a connection to God. In the tent, he sees these moments with clarity and recalls his promise to serve God if he is able to survive.

Hillenbrand explains that Louie experiences his last flashback when he recalls the promise he made on the raft. He is profoundly changed by his realizations, enough that he can return home able to resist his former addictions and also able to escape his tormenting nightmares of the bird. He is truly changed by the vision and words offered by Graham, of a God who loves him, who offers forgiveness for past wrongs, and who wants humans to move forward without sin. Louie is particularly affected by Graham’s quoting of the eighth chapter of John, which contains the words “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Louie hears Graham speak of the miracles God offers and how God offers people “the grace to go forward.”

Chapter Thirty-Nine serves as a final resolution tor Louie’s story. He has reached a plateau of peace. This chapter almost serves as an epilogue to the previous chapter, offering clear illustration of how the conversion experience healed Louie by cleansing him of the anger and hatred he had felt. Those negative feelings have been converted into love and even bliss. Louie has found balance in his relationship with Cynthia, has discovered his calling, and is able to share his healing even with the guards who mistreated him. Louie has reached total peace with his wartime experiences. He is able to look at all the guards with kindness and happiness.

The final chapter is likely to surprise many readers, particularly skeptics, who might be hesitant to believe that Louie could have shed all of his anger and anxiety, or that he could have been transformed so fully. It could be off-putting to people who are not Christian, since Louie’s conversion is the result of embracing Christian ideas as delivered by a famous preacher. Yet, if the reader is open-minded, this chapter can also offer opportunity to reflect on ways anyone can find peace and healing through forgiveness, humility, and compassion. This can apply to any kind of emotional healing, not just healing from the large-scale, extreme trauma experienced by Louie.