Most University of Mississippi students are restricted from parking in certain areas of campus, but that is about to change for Don Zielenski and other Purple Heart recipients at Ole Miss.
The sophomore from south Texas is the first to receive the new Purple Heart Parking Pass, which allows owners to park anywhere on campus. The permit will be unveiled during the university’s Purple Heart Recognition Program at 10 a.m. April 24 on the Lyceum steps.
The event will highlight efforts by the Office of Veteran and Military Services to honor the university’s veteran community and promote access across UM’s official Purple Heart University campus.
“The Purple Heart Recognition Program allows students, faculty, staff and retirees the opportunity to exchange their current parking pass for a Purple Heart Parking Pass,” said Andrew Newby, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and UM assistant director of veteran and military services. “This pass allows the recipient to park in any lot within any space on campus.
“We will have a dedicated space in the Lyceum Circle that is marked with a Purple Heart placard, which will allow visitors with proper proof of Purple Heart credentials to access the space as well.”
The April 24 program schedule includes the March of the Colors by the ROTC Color Guard and the official party, the national anthem performed by the University Low Brass Group and opening remarks from Evan Ciocci of Sandwich, Massachusetts, a sophomore information systems management and computer science major and president of the Student Veterans Association.
Newby will discuss VMS programming, present the parking pass and unveil the parking spot on the Circle as the ceremony ends.
Zielenski was a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army. While on deployment as a turret gunner on mounted vehicle patrol, he was struck during a mortar attack. Pushing through his injuries, Zielenski continued to fire on the enemy, which resulted in a Bronze Star Medal with Valor device and a Purple Heart.
Months later on the same deployment, he was on foot patrol when an improvised explosive device triggered a set of explosives placed on top of a building. The building collapsed onto Zielenski, rupturing his spleen, which was removed in transit aboard a helicopter, collapsing a lung and crushing his skull. His injuries left him deaf and blind on the left side of his face, and he was awarded a second Purple Heart.
“Don recovered from his injuries and is now majoring in psychology,” Newby said. “He intends to work with veterans experiencing PTS and TBI. We look forward to great things from Don, and are excited to honor him here at this Purple Heart campus.”
Zielenski said he is honored to have been chosen as the first student to receive the Purple Heart Parking Pass.
“Andrew has helped our Student Veterans Association progress by leaps and bounds in the short time he has been here,” said the veteran, who was stationed at Camp Hovey South Korea in 2008, then deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. “Being part of the Student Veterans helped tremendously upon arriving my freshman year. This organization gave me a great group of people I could associate with.”
Three years ago, UM, the city of Oxford and Lafayette County were named a Purple Heart University, a Purple Heart City and a Purple Heart County for their efforts to create a welcoming environment for veterans and Purple Heart recipients. The Purple Heart is a military decoration given only to those wounded or killed in combat.
While UM is one of four SEC institutions to hold the Purple Heart University designation, it is the first university in Mississippi to receive the designation in conjunction with the city and county in which it is located.
“The special things that Ole Miss does specifically for veterans that attend the university are what qualify them to become a Purple Heart University,” said Ben Baker, commander of the Oxford Purple Heart Chapter.
The university’s Office of Veteran and Military Services was created in April 2013 to provide comprehensive resources for veterans, active members of the military and their dependents, and to assist them in becoming successful as Ole Miss students.
“Being named a Purple Heart University means we support, honor and welcome veterans to this great campus,” said Matt Hayes, senior military instructor for Army ROTC and a Purple Heart recipient. “When you have a campus that is supportive of your goals and ambitions, it really gives the veteran the inspiration and drive to succeed.”
Ole Miss is home to 1,355 military-connected students, 959 of whom are using GI Education Benefits.