ANDERSON — Medals stacked in boxes and an American flag carefully folded in a wooden box sit behind Belinda Bollman next to an end table with wedding and family photos.
The medals and flag were awarded posthumously to her husband, Sgt. Ed Bollman, a conservation officer with the Department of Natural Resources, who died Feb. 13, 2018.
Opening one of the boxes, Belinda Bollman explained the medal inside was given to her last May during a DNR ceremony.
“He was the first DNR officer to ever receive it,” she said of Indiana’s Medal of Honor.
The medal was presented in recognition of Ed Bollman, 43, for his act of heroism when he sacrificed his life in an attempt to save his friend, 74-year-old Roger Chezem, who had fallen into a pond at Camp Kikthawenund near Frankton.
Belinda Bollman, 45, said she met her husband at Lapel High School when they were both freshmen. They were married for 22 years.
“I started dating Ed when I was 17 and I probably met Roger two weeks later,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve known him forever also.”
Chezem was like a second father to her husband, she said.
“He was his Boy Scout leader for many, many years,” she said. “He was in our wedding as a groomsman. He really was like his second dad. He was the one to teach him most of the things he knew about hunting, fishing and being an outdoorsman.”
The two men had planned to go ice fishing the afternoon of Feb. 13, 2018, after Ed Bollman got off work. Belinda Bollman said she fixed dinner, but her husband wasn’t home when it began to get dark and wasn’t answering her text messages.
“We ended up eating our salad,” she said, looking toward the kitchen. “We left his sitting there. I still have the texts on my phone.”
She said Chezem’s wife called her before calling the camp where the men were ice fishing. A manager checked the pond and said the truck was there, but the men weren’t anywhere to be found.
Belinda Bollman and the couple’s then 10-year-old son, Hunter, drove out to the campgrounds.
“We pulled in and there was already a fire truck and an ambulance there,” she said. “That’s when I knew it was a little more serious than they were just out walking in the woods or something.”
The mother and her son waited while rescuers searched for the two men.
“They finally found them and it was almost midnight,” she said. “I just kept telling people ‘He’s smarter than this — I don’t know how this could happen. He’s too smart for this.’”
“I couldn’t figure out how he fell through the ice.”
Authorities later pieced together what had happened.
She said they believe Chezem, who had been fishing on the ice every day of that week, went out onto the ice while Ed Bollman was putting on his cold weather gear at Chezem’s truck.
“He went out first and fell through and then had a heart attack,” she said.
Ed Bollman, trained in ice rescues, rushed to pull his friend from the water, she said.
“Ed knew how to get himself out of the ice, but he wouldn’t let go of Roger,” Belinda Bollman said. “When they found him, Ed still had a hold of Roger. He wouldn’t let go of him.”
Ed Bollman had broke about 50 feet of ice with his head and one of his hands trying to get to the shore all while still holding onto Chezem.
“I just think he thought he could make it,” Belinda Bollman said. “It was cold, and I’m sure hypothermia set in and he couldn’t go any further. That’s how the line of duty comes into play. He knew how to save someone — he was doing that. He was trying to. He put Roger’s life ahead of his.”
An investigation by three separate law enforcement agencies determined that while Ed Bollman was not working at the time of the accident, his training kicked in and he rushed to save his friend from the icy waters.
Hunter Bollman, now 12, talked briefly about his father and the things they did together.
“He doesn’t like to talk about anything that has to deal with feelings,” said Belinda Bollman. “He will talk about his dad, but if it has to deal with feelings, no.”
Military honors were conducted for Ed Bollman seven months after his death and he has since been honored for his actions. His name was added to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.
His wife said she is grateful for the support she has received and she often struggles with her grief. She said she is working to help get legislation passed to assist other families who have had a family member killed in the line of duty.
“It’s a word that is overused, but he died a hero,” she said. “He really did.”
During his last rites, she was told that anyone who sacrifices their life for another goes to heaven. Those words, she said, give her immense peace.
“He laid down his life for another man,” Belinda Bollman said. “There is no greater sacrifice.”