Back in the Albany train station, Francis looks around him, taking in the crowd of civilians, soldiers, and veterans. Remembering his words to Nicole about no longer understanding what constituted a hero, he begins to think of all the soldiers he had known: the men in his platoon that had lived, those that had died, Enrico, Arthur Rivier. He remembers then, Arthur’s drunken proclamation about the war: “we were only there,” scared children not meant to fight or kill.
The varied crowd in the train station represents the various stages of Francis’ life up until this point, while the trains themselves represent possible avenues for his future. In thinking of Arthur at this literal crossroads, Francis shows that he is finally processing the truth of the war. This opens the possibility of leaving its trauma in his past.
Francis realizes, finally, that to him, those were the true heroes: the scared kids who stayed anyway, trying “to fight the good war” and now never talk about it. While those men were never the ones who received medals, Francis decides they are heroes all the same.
In this revelation, Francis finally shows his maturity in that he is able to think with nuance. He also provides a possible answer to the novel’s implied question about what constitutes heroism: doing what is right in the face of fear.
Thinking about his future for the first time, Francis runs through the list of things he could and should do. He muses, maybe he should write about the “true heroes” of the war; maybe he should track down Enrico; maybe he should go to Dr. Abrams clinic to have his face reconstructed.
By seriously considering his possible options, Francis shows that he too is beginning to but his trauma into perspective, letting it form a part of his past but not preclude him from having a future.
One last time, Francis thinks of Nicole, and then of the gun in his duffel bag. Slinging his bag over his shoulders, he finds himself comfortable with its familiar heft and heads towards the next outbound train.
Literally, here, Francis becomes comfortable with his “baggage” — the trauma of both his childhood and the war. In picking the bag up and heading for a train, he shows that he is capable of living with his burdens.