Back in the Philippines, Eddie and his unit burn down the village of their now-dead captors. Fueled by their suffering and anger, they decide to do this to destroy enemy resources and to send a rescue signal. Eddie is about to destroy one of the last huts, when he sees a small, child-sized shadow moving inside. He thinks of Rabozzo, and of how tired he is of violence and loss. Determined to spare the life of whoever might be in there, Eddie calls kindly for the person to come out, saying he won’t shoot. Morton yells to Eddie to hurry, saying nobody is in there. Eddie keeps calling out to the shadow, when suddenly he steps in a flame and his leg catches fire. He feels something shoot through his leg, and he falls. Someone jerks him back, and the next thing he knows, he is in a transport vehicle, barely conscious.
While it’s also a practical choice, vengeance is mostly what fuels the men’s decision to set the village on fire. Yet as he stands before the flaming hut, the division between Eddie’s side and the other side melts—he doesn’t think about whether the person in the hut may be an enemy, but rather focuses on loss and death as separate forces, harming all humans involved. Having watched Rabozzo die when he was helpless and weak, Eddie can’t imagine taking a life, especially when that life may be small and vulnerable. His sense of mercy has a cleansing quality: engulfed by violence, Eddie wishes to be free of it.
In heaven, the Captain asks Eddie if he remembers how he got out of the village fire, and Eddie can’t recall. They talk about the bullet that caught Eddie’s leg and caused his fall. Eddie thinks of how much that bullet disabled him, despite the many failed surgeries he underwent after he came home. Left with a limp that would worsen over the course of his life, Eddie thinks of how the bullet took away running, dancing, and feeling like himself. The narrator states that “war had crawled inside of Eddie, in his leg and his soul,” and the world thereafter seemed purposeless.
Eddie’s sense of purpose is tied to his sense of mobility, because he has always wanted to leave Ruby Pier to make a life elsewhere. Even though it is the darkness of the war that robs Eddie of his momentum, his leg becomes the symbol of his inertia. The loss of dancing is significant, as the novel has shown dancing to be central to Eddie’s closest moments with others—his mother, Marguerite, and even Joe.
The Captain tells Eddie that the only protection he could offer his men was his mantra that nobody gets left behind. He then tells Eddie that he was the one who shot him. Eddie angrily launches at the captain, who lets Eddie wrestle him for a few moments. Eddie then mourns his leg, and the Captain tells him that he couldn’t have convinced Eddie to leave, and he couldn’t have let him die in front of the flaming hut, experiencing a mental breakdown, so he had to shoot him and pull him out of there. The Captain reveals that he himself didn’t survive the combat zone. This surprises Eddie, who had assumed the Captain died in a later battle. Eddie then sees what happened: Morton tended to Eddie’s wounds, and the Captain got out to move a gate in the way of their escape vehicle. After clearing the way and checking for enemies, the Captain stepped on a landmine and died.
Eddie’s anger over everything he lost in the war—his leg, his sense of motivation, and his joy—has actually been building throughout his life. Eddie spent years mourning the loss of his leg and everything it symbolized, only to learn that the person who caused this loss was someone he trusted. What Eddie didn’t realize during his life was that the injury to his leg spared him the loss of his life—which is ironic, given that Eddie’s injury represents to him the loss of feeling alive. Albom argues that sometimes, things aren’t as bad as they appear, as the unknown alternatives would have been worse.