Over the course of the Bravo Squad's two-week Victory Tour, Billy gets only one day to return to his parents' home and spend time with his family. When Billy's sister Kathryn admits that she's been speaking to a group that helps heroes like Billy legally desert the military, Billy understands that he's being forced to choose whether to remain loyal to his blood family or the brotherhood he’s found with Bravo Squad. Throughout the nvoel, Billy grapples with what it means to be a family, how to be loyal to the people he considers family, and what family and brotherhood even mean. He eventually realizes that what he truly needs from his family, blood or otherwise, is for them to recognize that his time in Iraq has turned him into a new person. He also wants his family to subsequently show their loyalty to him in a way that respects this new person he's become.
It's important to note that loyalty to his blood family is what sent Billy to war in the first place. Following a horrific car accident that left Kathryn’s face severenly scarred, Kathryn's fiancé—whom Billy refers to only as "pussy boy"—breaks off their engagement. Though Kathryn limits the expression of her hurt and rage to throwing her engagement ring in pussy boy's face, Billy takes his anger a step further by destroying pussy boy's sports car and chasing him across a parking lot with a crowbar. Lawyers later offer to drop Billy's felony charges if he agrees to join the Army. This backstory offers evidence of Billy's unflinching loyalty to those he considers family, and to Kathryn in particular. However, it's worth mentioning that for Kathryn, Billy's actions only make her feel guilty and responsible for condemning her brother to military service.
Despite Billy’s apparent sense of loyalty and familial responsibility, his relationship to his father, Ray, complicates the way that Billy thinks of family and how family "should" work. Though Ray has always been deeply conservative and supportive of the war in Iraq, he won’t acknowledge that his son is fighting a war he supposedly believes in wholeheartedly. Ray doesn't even speak to Billy the entire time he's home, nor does Ray say goodbye when Billy leaves to be redeployed. Billy is generally unsure of what to do about the fact that his involvement in the war still doesn't earn him attention or respect from his warmongering father. Billy clearly feels unloved by his father, which feeds into a bigger picture that encompasses all the Bravo Squad. At one point, Billy briefly describes each of the Bravos' family situations: Mango's father was physically abusive, and his mother was complicit in that violence; Shroom was sexually abused as a child; and several other Bravos' parents are either in jail or dead due to drugs. Although this is all the reader learns about the Bravos' families, this information offers the overarching suggestion that simply having blood family members doesn't guarantee kindness, loyalty, or care from them. In turn, having broken families opens the door for the Bravos to find a sense of family among each other.
Billy’s flashbacks of his time with Shroom make it very apparent that Shroom wasn't just Billy’s friend or a mentor. Instead, Shroom very much stepped in as the father figure that Billy never had, given Ray’s detachment. Similarly, in the wake of Shroom's death, Billy leans on Dime as a mentor and thinks of the rest of Bravo Squad as brothers. Their loyalty to each other is especially evident as they help each other get through the halftime show: Billy leads a drunk and struggling Lodis through the drill, while Day counts steps to calm the soldiers and make it seem more like a drill and less like a war zone. The soldiers offer each other the care, comfort, and understanding that can only come from someone who truly understands the horror of war and the horror of being forced to relive the experiences of war on national television.
Although Kathryn attempts to show loyalty to her brother by contacting the group that helps soldiers desert, Billy finds himself torn between showing loyalty to the Bravos by returning to Iraq and showing loyalty to his family by deserting. Billy does consider taking Kathryn up on her offer, but he ultimately decides that he has no choice but to follow orders and return to war with the rest of Bravo Squad. He understands that his experiences in the Army have fundamentally changed how he thinks about family, loyalty, and responsibility. He knows that even though accepting Kathryn's help would make her feel better, he also knows he wouldn't be able to live with the guilt of allowing the rest of Bravo Squad to return to Iraq and possibly die without him. When Billy chooses to return to Iraq, the novel makes it exceptionally clear that family isn’t limited to those who are related by blood. Instead, experiences themselves, particularly terrifying and life-threatening ones, can form lasting bonds that have the power to outweigh the bonds between blood relations.
Family and Brotherhood ThemeTracker
Family and Brotherhood Quotes in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Billy sensed the true mindfucking potential of it on their first trip outside the wire, when Shroom advised him to place his feet one in front of the other instead of side by side, that way if an IED blew threw the Humvee Billy might only lose one foot instead of two.
What's happening now isn't nearly as real as that, eating this meal, holding this fork, lifting this glass, the realest things in the world these days are the things in his head.
You can deny him, he thought, watching his father across the table. You can hate him, love him, pity him, never speak to or look him in the eye again, never deign even to be in his crabbed and bitter presence, but you're still stuck with the son of a bitch. One way or another he'll always be your daddy, not even all-powerful death was going to change that.
"Son, try to look at it this way. It's just another normal day in America."
Billy's heart melts a little at that son. The stage is disappearing around them like a mortally wounded ship beneath the waves.
"I don't think I even know what normal is anymore."
Plus the fact that the war's put up some spotty box-office numbers, didn't I say that might be a problem? So we're bucking that too. I know fifty-five hundred sounds pretty lame after the numbers we've been talking about, but for young men like yourselves, young soldiers on Army pay, it's not nothing, right?
They are his boys, his brothers. Bravos would die for one another. They are the truest friends he will ever have, and he'd expire from grief and guilt at not being there with them.