Petty Officer 2nd Class Rudger Bollman, a 2006 South Putnam graduate and U.S. Navy air traffic controller, took part in Operation Tomodachi, helping the residents of Oshima clean up and move debris.
Like much of eastern Japan, Oshima was devastated by the March 11 tsunami. Residents lived without electricity, fresh water and warm meals for more than 16 days before sailors and Marines arrived to assist them.
Bollman said conditions were unlike anything he'd ever seen.
"Helping there was like trying to clean up a landfill," Bollman said. "The houses that still stood were swept off of their foundations. Cars were overturned. The thing that really surprised me was that some people were still living there."
Bollman's mother Christy Wager said his ship was near Taiwan before being called to Japan to help with the relief effort. He volunteered to take part in the effort when the call went out.
"It made me feel really proud that he had a chance to do something significant like this," Wager said. "He's come a long way since high school. This is just another opportunity where he's been able to help people rather than hurting them."
Essex arrived on Oshima to assist on March 27 and stayed, helping with relief efforts until April 8.
"Unfortunately I didn't get to talk to any of the town's people, but from what I saw they were just trying to clean up what was left of their property," Bollman said.
Bollman is the son of Jeff and Lauralee Bollman and of Christy and Lynn Wager.