When the train stops at each station, the men pile off, steal what souvenirs they can, and then come back aboard. As they pass bombed out cities, they cheer in celebration.
The forgiveness these men had for the guards evaporates. War has made them hard-hearted – instead of seeing the loss of human life as tragic, they cheer the destruction out of a callous desire for revenge on all of Japan.
At the U.S. military base in Yokohama, Frank Tinker introduces a journalist to Louie, who most Americans still think is dead. Louie tells the journalist that he would rather die than go through experiences of the camp again. Louie boards a plane to Okinawa with the other POWs.
Louie’s matter-of-fact response to the journalist reveals how close he was to losing his will to survive, even suggesting that his life isn’t worth the pain and suffering he endured at the camp…
In Okinawa, Louie checks into a hospital so that he can recover from the abuse he experienced in the camp. The doctors tells him that the years of malnutrition mean that Louie will never run again. When a reporter soon after asks him about his running career, he says, “It’s finished.”
…Louie’s negative attitude continues. It’s hard to imagine that Louie, whose optimism and resilience got him through the war, would give up so easily on his running career. Perhaps being a POW has gotten to him, worn down his most admirable trait: resilient optimism.
On the morning of September 9th, Louie’s family finds out about his survival from an article in the Los Angles times with the headline: “Zamperini Comes Back From Dead.” The family erupts with relief and excitement for his return. Louise says that September 9 will be Mother’s Day from now on because that was day she learned for sure her son was coming home. Anthony remarks that “those Japs couldn’t break him.”
The Zamperini family’s enthusiastic response to the news of Louie’s survival contrasts with Louie’s more morbid, depressed attitude, heightening how much Louie has changed. Anthony is correct that the guards couldn’t break his body, but they might have seriously damaged his spirit.
In Okinawa, Louie enjoys himself eating and partying until a typhoon hits that wreaks havoc all over the base. Seeing the destruction, Louie feels ready to leave.
The destruction, not unlike what he witnessed during bombing runs, seems to reminds Louie of his experiences in the war. Louie’s desire to go home illustrates his naive belief that if he leaves Japan, then he’ll also be leaving behind the devastation experienced there. But, as we’ll learn, memories of the war will follow him home.
Louie travels to a military hospital in San Diego where he meets Pete, who looks gaunt and haggard from the stress of worrying about Louie for all these years. Due to the all weight he gained in recovery, Louie actually looks chubby in comparison to his brother. Once, when reporters came to interview Louie, they huddled around Pete, thinking he was the famous POW.
Pete’s appearance reveals that even psychological ordeals like the mental strain of worrying about one’s brother can have a devastating effect on one’s self. Just because Louie is out of physical danger does not mean that he is safe: he must still face the psychological perils, like the ones that have so affected Pete, of coming to terms with his experiences.
On a wet October day, Louie arrives in California and meets his family on the airstrip. Louie rushes to his mother and whispers, “Cara mamma mia.” He and his sobbing mother embrace for a long while.
Sustained by her belief that this day would come, Louise finally gets to hold her son again and hear him say in their shared ancestral language of Italian, “My dear mother.” By speaking in his mother tongue, Louie connects to his heritage and identity – a connection that the dehumanizing conditions of the camp threatened to erase.