Frank Criniti can’t help but get choked up thinking about his buddies who never made it back from war.
The 71-year-old South Philly resident was drafted into the United States Army and spent 13 months of active duty in South Korea during the Vietnam War. A few of his close friends were sent to Vietnam and never came home.
“I did my basic training over at Fort Dix and most of my company was shipped to Vietnam,” said Criniti, who served a total of six years in the Army. “A couple of my buddies got killed over there.”
After his service, Criniti returned to South Philly and eventually set up Criniti’s Meat Market with his Navy veteran brother Joe on S. 10th Street near Snyder Avenue, which served the community for 45 years until Joe’s passing in 2020. Frank also dabbled in a produce business and worked the docks for UPS.
“I always stayed busy,” Frank said. “Ever since I retired, I’ve been finding things to do.”
Most recently, Criniti poured his heart and soul, and a whole lot of concrete, into a project last year, as he built a large, beautiful veterans memorial near his home in South Philly’s Marconi Plaza neighborhood.
Criniti saw a large overgrown triangular lot across 18th Street from where he lives near the corner of Moyamensing Avenue and imagined a way to recognize all who served in the military.
“I was pouring concrete across the street for my pavement and the contractor volunteered to pour the concrete over here on my request,” Criniti recalled. “I drew a blueprint and sent it to City Hall. And it developed from there. I took one flag from my brother Joe, who passed away in 2020, and created this memorial. And I keep adding to it.”
Now there are two sections to Criniti’s growing All For One Veterans Memorial. The larger portion has eight tall flag poles representing the six branches of the military, a flag of the National League of Families POW/MIA and, of course, Old Glory herself. The smaller part of the memorial has one large flag reading “All For One.”
“It means all the branches of the military are all one,” Criniti said.
The monuments have beautiful rosebushes and flowers filling in the spaces between the flagpoles and smaller flags representing countries that the U.S. fought in combat throughout its history. The monument has not only shown honor and respect to millions of veterans who served over the years, but the structure has beautified an open area that Criniti said was neglected by the city. Criniti does all the upkeep, including planting bushes and mowing the lawn.
“Growing up and coming from Italy, we lived on a farm,” Criniti said. “But when we moved to 2554 S. Jessup St., my dad raised seven of us there and we always liked to keep the neighborhood clean. And in today’s city, I just don’t see that. I like to keep it clean.”
The neighbors were in favor of the project and Criniti said the concrete was donated by Sam and Anthony Marino. Criniti and his son laid down all the sod.
“I keep busy because I’m 71,” Criniti said. “If you sit down and do nothing, you’re just going to rot away like the tree dust. I was never that way. My father worked all his life and I was the same way. I used to work 18 hours a day.”
Although no money is accepted by Criniti, some have donated in the form of helping beautify the area.
“When I told the neighbors I was doing it, they were all for it,” Criniti said. “Some of them helped out or donated rose bushes.”
On Sunday, and for the second straight year, Criniti welcomed a large crowd to the memorial for a Veterans Day weekend service that included a 21-gun salute by members of VFW Post 8714 of Glendora, New Jersey, of which Criniti is a member. There were also veteran motorcycle groups and plenty of coffee and doughnuts to go around.
Next year, Criniti hopes to make additions in the form of stone memorials recognizing all the wars the United States has fought. The idea of Christmas lights around the bushes on the memorial is also being discussed.
Either way, the monument is a small token of Criniti’s appreciation for veterans.
“I’m grateful because I do it from the bottom of my heart,” Criniti said. “I spent minimal amount of money. My labor is nothing. That’s love to the veterans and to the couple friends I lost in Vietnam. Even today there are wars going on but in war, there is no winner.”