When Louie comes to Japan in 1998, he brings a letter for the Bird, but the Bird refuses to see him. Louie never knows if the Bird received it. The Bird died in 2003.
The story ends with description of Louie carrying the 1998 Olympic torch through a very different Japanese landscape, one filled with beauty, peace, and joy.
Hillenbrand presents strong closure to this story, on many levels. Louie’s story comes tightly full circle when he creates the nonprofit Victory Boys Camp, a location that offers “lost boys” with natural and vocational experiences to help them reform their ways. While he is no longer a “lost boy” himself, Louie continues to be himself, able to hike and to run amazingly fast in his later decades -- even skateboarding in his seventies and skiing in his nineties. He retains extreme optimism and does not experience anger, and he spreads his love of life to many. While Chapter One begins with the image of Louie and Phil side-by-side looking at the zeppelin, Hillenbrand emphasizes their tight, fraternal bond when she offers the scene of Pete’s deathbed in 2008, with Louie and Pete lying side by side just as they had in the novel’s opening.
The Bird is a character foil for Louie right up to the end of the story. The Bird’s lack of moral reckoning contrasts strongly with Louie’s spiritual awakening. While the Bird achieves financial success, he does not become the elevated human being that Louie becomes. While Louie becomes someone who spreads love and peace, the Bird accumulates personal wealth. Using her ability to shift into reporting mode, Hillenbrand pieces together the story of what the Bird had done until then. She presents information about amnesty that was ultimately given to war criminals as part of the American security agenda -- and explains how some of the worst war criminals went on to great success as leaders in Japan. The Bird says that the war was to blame for his actions and not himself.
This book, which focuses strongly on the war experience, ends with strong attention to peace. Hillenbrand offers much information about people reconciling their pasts. Out of all of these efforts to create reconciliation, Watanabe’s prideful reluctance to admit his own wrongs is an anomaly. His is the loss, as Louie’s joyful levity presents a strong contrast to the Bird’s un-reconciled past and his focus on financial gains. Ultimately, Hillenbrand’s story offers strong lessons about the powers of forgiveness and the failures of pride. Louie and others like him are victorious for their abilities to put the past behind them and to accept the beauty and joy of the present. This is the theme of rebirth enabled by defeat of evil and by forgiveness, a theme experienced by Louie, by Japan, by the world, and now by the reader.