Jim Bollich grew up on Acadiana farmland but spent his 21st birthday in the captivity of the Japanese military. He was freed by his 24th birthday, courtesy of an advance group of American military and our World War II allies, the Soviets.
It’s been an unlikely 101 years — his birthday arrives Monday with some fanfare at his Lafayette home — that carried him from the expanses of the rural Mowata community, near Eunice, where his family grew rice and cotton, to the confines of the Japanese prisoner of war camp at Mukden, Manchuria, where he spent most of his 40 months in captivity.
There was more to his life than his captivity. He can look back on more than a century of achievement, including scholarly research and accomplishment and a long career as a geologist in the oil and gas business. He and his wife of 67 years — she is now deceased — met in graduate school, raised a family, enjoyed grandchildren, and he’s written several books, including “Death March: A Soldier’s Journal,” about his time as a POW. He has even tried his hand at art.
As a soldier — he trained as an airman — Bollich survived first the fight against superior Japanese forces in the Philippines, then the Bataan Death March and finally captivity in northeastern China, he said, at least in part because of skills learned on the farm as well as “luck and prayers.”
“Concerning the first: As a young person growing up on the farm I learned to hunt, trap and survive in an outdoor environment at a very early age. I always knew that with a rifle, ammunition and a knife, I could easily survive without difficulty,” he said in written responses to emailed questions from The Advocate.
“That came to a test when, on Bataan, we soon became very short of food because of so many mouths to feed,” he said. To supplement his diet, he wrote, he carried a .30-caliber, WWI-style rifle into the jungle to hunt.
“For a while it was easy pickings. I would kill a bird, start a small fire and cook and eat it just as I had done many times with my brothers as I was growing up,” he wrote.
“Eventually game became very scarce, and toward the end, no longer available. On my last hunt, I was amazed to discover a large python which I shot but he got away because I could not continue to follow him in the underbrush because of darkness. My last meal was a crow, and its meat is as dark as its feathers, and as tough as the mule we had a few meals back.”
In captivity, he said his weight dropped as low as 90 pounds and he weighed about 120 when he was freed. For about a year, he said, he had some health concerns but got past those. The Veterans Administration has always taken good care of him, he said.
There were some long-term personal benefits to his service. Prior to his enlistment, he could attend college only a few courses at a time at Southwest Louisiana Institute — now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — because he was needed on the farm. But the GI Bill paid for him to resume his studies in geology and helped him attend graduate school in New Mexico, where he met his wife.
His sleep suffered — he had nightmares about his service in Asia — but, he said, he studied longer hours when he couldn’t get to sleep. That improved his academic performance.
“I would say that my life changed completely because of my war experience, and in a good way,” he said. “After the war, with the GI Bill, it was a dream come true. I have to say that the GI Bill is responsible for my smooth transition back into civilian life, and responsible for the full life that I have had so far.”
He’s learned to say “so far,” as well about his long life because there may be a long time remaining.
“I never lived my life with the purpose of living a long life. This was and is still the way I look at it,” he said. “When I was 70 years old, I figured I had at least five more years to live so that was what I prepared for.
“But then I passed that age and reached 80. Surely three more years left at best. But I reached 90, thought about for a while, then said ‘Oh, What the heck. No use worrying about.’ And that has been my attitude ever since.”
At 100, he gave up driving “but did not give up on life.”
“I have so many hobbies to keep me happy and busy. I retired in 1986, and have enjoyed every day since, not that I did not like my job. It was a perfect profession as far as I was concerned,” he said. “After I reached 100, I decided to concentrate more now on my artwork, which is oil paintings, but I am still interested in science, etc.”
On Monday, state Sen. Gerald Boudreaux was expected to drop by Bollich’s home with a proclamation to honor Bollich, who says he keeps up with the news but is “disappointed with the way the country is headed.”
“I know that the majority of Americans are good, patriotic, citizens, but I am afraid that there are some that are working to tear the country apart,” he said. “Some have to lose their freedom for a while to know what our flag and freedom is all about.”
He’s got some advice for younger people, which includes almost everyone when you reach 101.
“Young people tend to be impatient and want dreams and aspirations to just appear without effort, but that won’t happen,” he said. “They have to seriously put their shoulders to the grindstone and forge ahead, even though the path may hard at times, but never give up. Get a good education, work hard, and success will come.”
(c) 2022 The Advocate
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.