Thomas "Zola" Palozola
Corporal Thomas “Zola” Palozola was a United States Marine Corps Veteran who served in three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He served with 3rd Battalion / 7th Marines Regiment Kilo Company as an Infantry Marine on his first deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. Then as an infantry squad leader on his second deployment to Al Qaim, Iraq. When Zola was nearing the end of his contract, he learned his younger brother was set to deploy to Helmand Province, Afghanistan and took it upon himself to extend his contact for a third deployment as the lead turret gunner for the Personnel Security Detail for Regimental Combat Team 7, simply so he could look after his little brother.
While on his deployment to Afghanistan, Zola saw intense combat and was credited by the Regimental Colonel and Sergeant Major with saving their lives in multiple combat engagements. During the deployment, Zola’s vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device in which he was knocked unconscious and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Zola would only allow himself a few days to recover in a hospital bed before he was back out in his turret again, ensuring his Marine’s safety.
Zola took an immense amount of pride in his service to his country and had a great love for all of his fellow veterans, so much so that he decided to dedicate his life after service to helping other veterans in any way he could.
Zola was credited by the Regimental Colonel and Sergeant Major with saving their lives in multiple combat engagements.
After getting out of the Marine Corps and putting in years of hard work, Zola received his bachelor’s degree in business from Webster University in St. Louis, MO. While in college, Zola served as the president of the Student Veteran’s Organization, something he took immense pride in.
Zola witnessed firsthand the challenges that come with being a veteran, assimilating back in to the civilian world. He knew that veterans were a different breed, one that needs to come together to continue their fellowship after exiting the service. He knew he had to do something to help bring veterans together on campus, so they can help each other in their assimilation back into the civilian world. Realizing this, Zola stead fasted an effort to build a veteran’s center on Webster University’s campus, something Tom knew the campus needed to help strengthen their veteran outreach efforts.
Tom, successful in writing a business proposal, obtained a $10,000 grant from Home Depot to build the veterans center. He set out to create a place for Veterans to come together and to help each other, and he accomplished it.
Zola found his calling in life: to continue his service by being a veteran’s advocate. After graduating, Zola got a job working for the VA, helping guide veterans along with any issues they may deal with in the civilian world. Zola was always the type to be the first to shoulder other people’s burdens, he wanted to continue to do this through his work with the VA. People that worked with him knew that he was on the fast track for management, his work ethic always spoke for itself and his love for veterans brought that out even more.
Although Zola had a lengthy list of accomplishments that would make anyone proud, and a bright future ahead of him, something was still very wrong. Even though everything looked great from the outside looking in, Tom still suffered from severe PTSD from his combat experiences and injuries, and his nature of always being the one to shoulder other people’s burdens, made him refuse to let anyone share the weight of his own issues.
Zola took his own life on Memorial Day weekend, 2017.
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