"The first night, we stopped; we were surrounded by guards, but they didn't give us water or food, basically just getting rest," said Bollich. "In the crack of dawn they kept us moving until we reached the camp, basically they were trying to kill us."
Once they have reached San Fernando, Philippines some of the prisoners were loaded into box cars and were sent 35 miles to the final destination. The Japanese then let the POW's out to walk another 12 miles to the first camp. A large number of prisoners died due to suffocation, dysentery and wounds from being transported in these conditions.
Bollich spoke to the airmen of the 336th Training group about lying awake in the camp at night hearing screams, crying and prayers throughout the darkness. This would be his 'home' for the next three and half years. Bollich said the only freedom these prisoners had was during their sleep, dreaming of their families and loved ones. Day in and day out these POW's would be tortured and beaten and given little to no food at times.
"This was an excellent opportunity to show the upcoming SERE cadre what they are really teaching Survival and Evasion skills for; the first 2 letters in SERE. Because hearing his story of captivity for three and half years is what happens if you don't learn those valuable skills" said Gilbert.
Three and a half years later, Bollich and the remaining men in his unit finally heard that they were going home. They all left the camps and made their way to ships off the coast of China that would bring the soldiers back to the California coast for in processing. Bollich believed he was safe and sound, until a major accident occurred.
"At about 4 a.m. we heard a quick bang and the lights went out, some sailors came down and said 'grab a life preserver and hit topside' " said Bollich.
Their ship that was transporting them back home was struck by a floating mine and began to take on water. Everyone onboard began to seal off quadrants of the ship to keep it from going under. They were successful in doing so, which gave them time to be rescued and given other transportation back to the main land...home.
"The first thing I did when I got home was get a haircut at a local barber shop" said Bollich.
When Bollich sat down for his shave and a trim the barber began to talk about a family who lost two sons and another who was held captive as POW. After a few minutes of listening to the conversation, Bollich realized that it was his two brothers that were killed in action in Europe. He slowly took off his bib, and walked out of the shop without a word.
Years later, this story was told to his young grandson many times, Christopher Gilbert, who would later become a U.S. Air Force paramedic for the S.E.R.E training school. These trials of his grandfather as a warfighter transpired into Gilberts' pride in being part of the S.E.R.E. mission and training. So that others may 'Return with Honor.'
Staff Sgt. Christopher Gilbert, 336th Training Support Squadron paramedic, has a link to history that relates to his everyday duties. Gilbert supports the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school here, the training his grandfather, James J. Bollich, a retired Army Air Corp solider used to return with honor from World War II. Bollich spoke to Airmen and families about the events leading him to becoming a prisoner of war and living to tell the journey he endured during and after the Bataan Death Marc