Bill Freas, of Palmyra, was deployed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, 2nd Infantry in 2012 when he was struck by shrapnel while on patrol.
“We started taking incoming and returning fire and all the sudden, ‘bam,’ I was down,” he said. “I thought I got shot, but I definitely wasn’t shot.”
After a few weeks of recovery from his injuries, Freas opted to return to complete the nine-month tour.
“We had already lost a bunch of brothers,” said Freas, who later received a Purple Heart.
When Freas comes to Finger Lakes Community College’s main campus in Hopewell for classes — he just started his second semester in the horticulture program — he can park in a designated spot near the main entrance. The parking spot is flanked with a sign marking its intended use for wounded combat veterans.
“It is awesome to be able to park there, because I have really good days and really bad days with my injuries,” Freas said.
He said the sign, combined with FLCC’s other efforts to support veteran students, “will be really instrumental in bringing in more veteran students.”
Many Purple Heart recipients have handicap permits as a result of their injuries, Freas said, so the dedicated space is as much about showing support as it is about extending the convenience of close parking.
Freas is happy to share the space, though it’s not known how many students or employees are Purple Heart recipients because there is no requirement to share the information.
Freas advocated for the parking spot’s addition last spring during his first semester. He and his son, Jacob, reached out to area businesses and other establishments to lobby for combat veteran parking spaces after learning about Wounded Warrior Family Support, the organization that provides the parking signs at no cost.
Soon after he started at FLCC, Bill Freas reached out to Jennie Erdle, director of student life, who works with the Veterans Advisory Council and the Student Veterans Organization, formerly the Student Veterans Club. She and SVO co-advisers Bob Brown, professor of history, and Heman Sweet, adjunct faculty member, supported the initiative. After several meetings with students and college constituents, the sign was ordered and placed over the summer.
“The creation of this parking space is an important and meaningful gesture by the college to acknowledge the sacrifices of Bill and his fellow wounded veterans,” Brown said. “I am very honored to be associated with this initiative.”