In the later half of 1946, Louie and Cynthia have dinner with Phil and his wife, Cecy, as well as another war buddy Fred Garret. Everything is going well until a waiter sets down a plate of white rice. Fred looses all control and starts incoherently berating the waiter. Louie and Phil calm Fred down, but at that moment the men realize that nothing will ever be like it was before the war.
Garret’s reaction and the men’s realization illustrate how war changes those who go through it. Louie and the others hoped they could simply reintegrate into civilian life, but the war has left psychological wounds that changes them. Even if they heal these wounds, they won’t be the same naïve young men who went off to war.
After the war, many Pacific POWs suffered from extreme emotional and psychological problems, including flashbacks, anxiety, depression, and uncontrollable rage. One of the most common illness was Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD for short), which involved vivid flashbacks and dulled responses to others and the outside world.
Before and during the war, Louie’s resilience had always been defined against the external obstacles he faced, whether that was training for the Olympics or surviving on the raft or in the Japanese camps. Now, he must overcome a different kind of obstacle: the inner struggle to heal his psychological war wounds.
In Louie’s life, the Bird continues to haunt his dreams. Louie withdraws from his wife and friends and into training for the next Olympics, aiming to run the 1,500 meter though he no longer finds pleasure in running. Trying to see how fast he could go, Louie pushes himself to the limit during one race. He finishes with a great time but irreversibly worsens his leg injury from the war. He will not make it to the Olympics.
In high school, Louie only got pleasure from running when he stopped running from his fear of sterilization and started running towards a goal of surpassing his limitations. Now, Louie loses that pleasure as he metaphorically runs from the past, unwilling to deal with the traumas and indignities of living through torture.
Without the prospect of the Olympics, Louie’s depression deepens. During the day, he obsessively thinks about the Bird and his nightmares only get worse. Drinking heavily, Louie becomes enraged easily, beating up strangers with little to no cause. One day, Louie feels the war enveloping him from all sides. He can smell and feel it. This is the first of many flashback he will have.
Louie transfers from a literal prison in Japan to the metaphoric prison of his mind. While Louie’s resilience preserved his compassion in the physical prison, this psychological prison brings out the dark, violent side of his identity. Unable to drink his problems away or rely on his defiant nature to combat mental illness, Louie must develop new methods for surviving this private prison.
After reading about a story of a former Pacific POW who helped arrest one of his wartime captors, Louie starts fantasizing about finding and killing the Bird. Louie feels as if vengeance is the only way to save himself from his spiraling depression. This desire for revenge replaces his lost quest for an Olympic medal.
Louie’s murderous rage is a perversion of the noble quest to represent his country at the Olympics. This rage shows how Louie absorbed some of the Bird into himself. The Bird used violence against Louie in order to make himself feel powerful, to forget about his past humiliations. Now Louie, too, believes that killing the Bird will restore the dignity that the Bird tried to take from him. Of course, just as the Bird’s effort to dehumanize Louie ended up dehumanizing the Bird, Louie’s desire for physical revenge is making Louie savage even with those he loves.