At 19 years old, U.S. Marine Salvatore Scarlato said he didn’t truly understand the purpose of the Korean War until he touched down on Korea’s west coast in April 1952.
The war had started on June 25, 1950 when communist North Korea, which was backed by the Soviet Union, invaded democratic South Korea with the intent of unifying north and south under communist rule. Scarlato was among the American troops sent to help South Korea fight off North Korea.
“When you see the mangled bodies, innocent people who were slaughtered, you realize you’re there to help save a country from communism,” he said.
Scarlato, 80, of Hauppauge, said he still has nightmares and flashbacks from the 11 months he served in Korea.
“It feels like yesterday,” said Scarlato, who suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries sustained from a grenade blast. “I still have shrapnel in my hand and neck.”
Scarlato, a recipient of the Purple Heart, was among the Korean War veterans honored Saturday night at a dinner hosted at the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in New York City. The event not only celebrated Veterans Day, but also marked the 60th anniversary of the war’s end. After three years of fighting, the United States, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea and South Korea agreed to an armistice on July 27, 1953.
Lee Doo-Young, of the Korean consulate, said the goal of Saturday’s event and others held this past July was to show Korea’s appreciation for the veterans who served during the war.
“Without their sacrifice, Korea today would not be possible,” he added.
Scarlato, who delivered a speech at the event, said he received two standing ovations, and also met a number of Korean diplomats. Each one, he said, bowed to him and told him, “Thank you for saving my country.”
As a 28-year member of the Korean War Veterans Association, now serving as its national director, and president of its New York department and Central Long Island chapter, Scarlato has been committed to educating the public about the war.
“The Korean War was always known as the forgotten war, the forgotten victory,” he said. “We had to make sure the public knows it wasn’t just a police action, it was a war and that we won.”
Each year, Scarlato said he and fellow veterans visit local schools and Korean churches to educate young people about the war and its impact.
On Monday, he’ll also participate in the Veterans Day parade in Manhattan with about 30 other Korean War veterans from Long Island.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to feel honored,” he said. “When people show their concern and appreciation, that makes a veteran very proud.”