Three rebels ― a national hero and two would-be NerosMay 16, 1961
Park Chung Hee was born to a poor farming family, but made it all the way to deputy commander in the Korean 2d Army.
On this date, he gave himself the ultimate promotion, instigating a coup d’etat. Around 2 a.m., Mr. Park, along with 250 officers and 3,500 soldiers, crossed the Han River into the heart of Seoul, taking control of major government offices.
The coup was initially opposed by the U.S. 8th Army commander, C.B. McGruder, and the Korean field army commander, Lee Han-rim. But the U.S. administration sent its approval and President of Korea Yun Bo-seon capitulated.
Mr. Park called his actions a “military revolution” and promised to turn over the government to a “conscientious statesman.” In December, however, Mr. Park took office as the fifth president of Korea, staying on as the sixth, seventh and eighth presidents, until a subordinate assassinated him during a dinner party in 1979.
May 17, 1996
From the days of Japanese colonial rule, anyone who led a Korean sports team to victory against a Japanese team was sure to be judged a hero.
Park Yeong-dae was one such hero, who died of a heart attack on this date at the age of 80.
In September 1936, Mr. Park led the basketball team of Sungin Business High School to the finals in the Japanese High School Basketball Championship. In that last game, Mr. Park dropped 54 points on Niigata Business High School, leading Sungin to a 118-28 victory. He was declared MVP of the game, putting him on par with the marathoner Sohn Kee-chung, who won a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics.
May 18, 1980
After the assassination of Mr. Park on Oct. 26, 1979, Korea seemed poised to enjoy a time of peace and freedom. This “Seoul Spring,” however, did not last.
After the fall of the Park Chung Hee regime, another group of soldiers led by Chun Doo Hwan schemed to take power. Less than two months after Mr. Park’s assassination, Mr. Chun staged his own coup d’etat on Dec. 12.
But Mr. Chun’s grip on power was tenuous and not widely accepted. Demonstrations occurred all around the country. And so, on May 17, 1980, Mr. Chun, along with his faithful subordinate Roh Tae-woo, tried to cement his power by proclaiming a nationwide state of martial law.
Many democratic movement leaders were imprisoned, including future President Kim Dae-jung. This inflamed a huge uprising, especially in Gwangju. About 600 college students there confronted soldiers from the martial law headquarters. More students gathered at the front gate of Chonnam National University, and before long other Gwangju citizens joined the movement.
These demonstrations continued until May 27, when Mr. Chun sent an armed force of 25,000 soldiers to end them.
In the course of the crackdown, according to the government’s official (and low) estimates, 191 civilians and students died, and 852 were injured. These events later came to be known as the Gwangju Democratization Movement.
by Chun Su-jin