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South Korean war hero Gen. Paik Sun-yup dies at 99

Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal, from left, 8th Army commander, retired South Korean Gen. Paik Sun-yup and Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Merritt pose in front of the bronze statue of Korean War hero Lt. Gen. Walton Walker at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

KIM GAMEL/STARS AND STRIPES

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 11, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea — Paik Sun-yup, South Korea’s first four-star general who as a young officer led his troops to victory in several battles in the 1950-53 Korean War, has died. He was 99.

He died Friday, according to the defense ministry. No cause was given.

Paik’s biography mirrored that of modern Korea. He was born in 1920 near what would become the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and began his military career at a Japanese military academy in the puppet state of Manchuria when the peninsula was under colonial rule.

Paik returned home after World War II and joined the military in the U.S-controlled South after the peninsula was liberated from the Japanese and divided into spheres of influence, with a communist North.

He commanded the 1st Infantry Division when the war began with a North Korean invasion across the 38th Parallel on June 25, 1950.

After the allies suffered crushing losses, Paik’s division helped shift momentum in favor of the U.S.-led United Nations force by defending a southern perimeter at the mid-August battle of Tabu-dong, also known as the “Bowling Alley.”

In a memoir, Paik described a pivotal moment when one of his battalions began retreating from a ridge under attack, exposing the flank of the Army’s 27th Infantry Regiment commanded by Col. John Michaelis, who said he would be forced to withdraw.

Paik convinced his American counterpart to hold off and managed to inspire his retreating soldiers to return. “We are going to turn around and kick the enemy off our ridge and I shall be at the front. If I turn back, shoot me,” he recalled saying in “From Pusan to Panmunjom.”

His division led a successful drive north and was the first to enter Pyongyang in October during an effort to win the war that was halted by the intervention of Chinese forces.

In 1951, as a major general, Paik led a massive effort to clear South Korea of insurgents in an operation called “Rat Killer,” according to military histories.

The war ended on July 27, 1953, with an armistice in lieu of a peace treaty, paving the way for the continued presence of thousands of American troops in South Korea.

Paik was one of the U.N. representatives to the armistice talks and eventually became chairman of the joint chiefs of staff before retiring from the military in 1960.

In his later years, Paik served as transportation minister and the South Korean ambassador to Taiwan, France and Canada.

Paik continued to enjoy close relations with the U.S. military, which named him an honorary Eighth Army commander in 2013 and has a display honoring his service at its headquarters on Camp Humphreys.

USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams offered condolences Saturday, saying Paik would frequently visit the command and speak with American and South Korean troops about the war.

“He made an incredible contribution shaping the U.S. and (South Korean) alliance into what it is today,” Abrams said in a statement. “General Paik is a hero and national treasure who will be truly missed.”

Paik’s career was not without controversy. Critics have continued to speak out against his colonial-era participation in Japanese military operations to stamp out Korean independence fighters.

A funeral was planned for Wednesday. Paik is to be buried at the national cemetery in Daejeon, officials said.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

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