Eddie expresses his sadness that the Captain died so young, and his guilt that the Captain has been waiting for him in heaven for so long. The Captain explains that death only appears to be the end because life on Earth is all humans have known before they die. He likens it to how Adam, the first human, might have thought he was dying the first night he went to sleep, only to realize the next morning that life begins again each morning—except with the added benefit of also having his “yesterday.” The difference between life on earth and in heaven, the Captain explains, is that in heaven “you get to make sense of your yesterday.”
The Captain reframes the life versus death paradigm for Eddie. As Eddie’s experiences thus far in heaven have confirmed, death is certainly not the end, but rather the start of another kind of existence. As is true throughout the novel, perception of reality is often misleading. Rather than bringing loss, death gives people more than they had in life: their “yesterdays.” Death adds another layer of understanding, giving meaning to one’s experiences on earth.
The Captain tells Eddie that he is there to teach him about the importance of sacrifice. He explains that sacrifice is something to “aspire to”—everyone makes sacrifices, and Eddie’s mistake was to mourn his sacrifice. Eddie maintains that the Captain shouldn’t have had to sacrifice his life, but the Captain contests that “when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re passing it onto someone else.” The Captain tells Eddie that when he died helping his unit escape, he got to keep his promise to not leave anyone behind. Eddie thinks about this, and forgives the Captain for shooting his leg.
Just as the Blue Man’s death spared Eddie’s life, so too did the Captain’s sacrifice prevent the possible deaths of his men—creating an important connection between the giver and the recipient of a sacrifice. Eddie forgives the captain and lets go of his bitterness because he realizes he isn’t alone in having made sacrifices, and that others’ sacrifices were often greater than his own.
Eddie remembers from the Blue Man that people waiting in heaven can make it look as they wish. He asks the Captain why he chose to make his heaven the battleground. The Captain explains that having grown up in a military family and gone straight to war, battle was the only life he knew. He then shows Eddie that their perceptions are different. While Eddie sees the decimated jungle from his wartime memories, the Captain sees the same land reconstructed—with beautiful, healthy trees and villages. As they prepare to part ways, Eddie asks the Captain if he knows whether Eddie saved “Amy or Annie” from the falling cart before he died. The Captain says he doesn’t know. He then gives Eddie his old helmet with his old crushed-up photo of Marguerite inside, and Eddie’s “heart aches.”
Because Eddie hasn’t yet come to terms with his experiences there, the battleground appears to him as it did when he was at war. The Captain, on the other hand, has already reconciled his memories, and is able to see it as a beautiful place. The contrast between the lush forest and the ruined battleground symbolizes the relationship between creation and destruction. The two are integrally related, and yet they are opposite, like two sides of the same coin. So too, life and death are part of the same cycle, but with two different faces. Humans throughout the novel (male ones, at least) are similarly multifaceted, and capable of having opposing characteristics.