NORTH PARK — Vincent Salamone, 81, grew up in an Italian neighborhood near Cabrini Green, two doors down from the home of actor Dennis Farina.
Salamone, who graduated from Lane Tech, even played the occasional pickup basketball game with future Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
After graduating from high school the son of Sicilian immigrants enlisted in the United States Navy where he served as cook on a destroyer off in the Mediterranean Sea during the Korean War.
Salamone was all smiles and full of stories as he and four other Korean War veterans attended the 18th annual Korean Festival, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.
"It's great to be here today. Korean-Americans are good, business-oriented people," Salamone said.
"I enlisted right after high school and went to Korea. I came back better because of the experience," he said, "It gave me discipline and focus."
Moe Hall, 83, of the northern suburbs was drafted into the Air Force and worked reconnisance during the Korean War.
He agrees with Salamone about the positive impact of their shared military experiences and even has a suggestion for solving Chicago's crime problem.
"The service was a good thing for men back then. It made us stronger and more determined. If the draft existed today we wouldn't have all these problems with the gangbangers," Hall said.
The Korean War last from 1950 to 1953, pitting South Korea, backed by the United States and other United Nations allies, against the Communist-supported North Koreans. Though an armistice ended hostilities in 1953, a formal peace treaty was never signed, meaning the two countries are still technically at war. Tension still exists on the Korean peninsula, and the U.S. maintains several thousand troops. More than 300,000 American troops served in the conflict, and more than 33,000 were killed.
There were a few thousand people at the Korean Festival Saturday, but the five veterans, who belong to a rapidly disappearing generation, were barely noticed by fest-goers, save for the timid applause they received when a speaker on the main stage asked the audience to recognize them.
But that didn't damper the spirits of Salamone and Hall.
"It's just great to be here. Chicago's a great city that's come a long way and I'm to even be honored for a sec," said Salamone, before darting off for 5 p.m. mass.