Suffolk unveiled a Korean War memorial with a solemn ceremony in Hauppauge. NewsayTV's Drew Scott reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

When Sal Scarlato, of Hauppauge, first returned to visit South Korea after the Korean War, the Marine veteran remembers feeling “very bitter.”

Wracked with traumatic memories, the 91-year-old recalled how seeing the gratitude of the Korean people changed his outlook.

“After that, I became a better Marine,” he said at a ceremony commemorating the 74th anniversary of the beginning of Korean War in Hauppauge Saturday. “They suffered. Not only the soldiers, it’s the people that suffered.”

In the decades since, Scarlato has turned the bitter to sweet as president of the Korean War Veterans Central Long Island chapter, determined to educate others about the conflict between North Korea and South Korea often referred to as “the Forgotten War.”

An American flag billowed alongside South Korea’s during the breezy afternoon ceremony, where more than 100 people gathered on the grounds of the H. Lee Dennison Building to see a new monument honoring Korean War veterans unveiled.

The towering granite slab joins two other Korean War tributes in the Armed Forces Plaza. It was built to honor American service members who fought in the war and the bond between nations. “Korean War veterans freed a nation — the Republic of Korea — from communism,” the etching reads.

More than 36,000 American military personnel died in the war, which spanned 1950 to 1953, and at least 2.5 million people, including many civilians, were killed in the conflict. There were 6,504 Korean War veterans on Long Island in 2022, according to estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The armistice agreement signed almost 71 years ago that ended the fighting also was commemorated Saturday.

Choong-Geon Lee, a senior official for South Korea’s consul general, expressed deep gratitude to more than a dozen Korean War veterans in attendance. “You are the true heroes,” he said, who helped the nation prosper. “You put everything on the line to uphold the values we cherish: liberty, free markets, human rights and democracy,” Lee said.

Saturday’s ceremony also paid tribute to Turkish forces that played a key role in supporting South Korea. Turkey sent almost 15,000 soldiers to South Korea during joint operations with U.S. forces, according to the United Nations.

Ibrahim Kurtulus, a Turkish American community activist from Staten Island, attended the ceremony with his young daughters and said it’s important to pass the stories on to the next generation.

His daughter Selin, 12, said the ceremony was a learning experience.

“I learned that they respect the Turks that came to help them, and anyone who came to help and sacrificed their life so we can be free today,” she said.

The monument was paid for through nearly $10,000 in fundraising, Scarlato said. County legislators in November approved the donation and placement at the memorial plaza.

Marcelle Leis, director of the county’s Veterans Service Agency, said Suffolk is home to the largest veteran population in the state. He sees the new monument as a way for veterans of the “forgotten” conflict to share their experiences.

“Lend an ear and listen, because they do have their stories to tell, and we will not have them for long,” Leis said.

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