Korea’s first general recounts his battles
In April 1952, after the Chinese had entered the war and the front lines had begun to stabilize, General Paik was visiting Busan to meet President Syngman Rhee to formally report a promotion. It was the first time he saw his wife and mother since he had left for the front. They had barely survived the initial stage of the war, when North Korean soldiers occupied Seoul, escaping to Busan later on, and he had been unable to help them during that time.
One reason Paik is regarded highly within the military establishment is that he won major battles and completed daunting tasks at a time when the South Korean military was still in its infancy. At the start of the war, under pressure from the Chinese, South Korean forces had withdrawn to the Nakdong River perimeter that protected South Gyeongsang and parts of North Gyeongsang, leaving them the only parts on the Korean Peninsula still held by the South. As the Chinese were gearing up to crush the perimeter, Paik’s First Division won a decisive battle in the northern part of Daegu at the Battle of Dabudong.
The First Division was also the first military unit to enter Pyongyang later in the war. After experiencing success in a series of command positions, Paik became the country’s first four-star general at the age of 33.
He was also in charge of cleaning the ranks of the military of communist sympathizers right before the Korean War broke out. At the time, Park Chung Hee, a major who later became the country’s president in a coup, was on the blacklist, but Paik played a key role in acquiring a pardon for him.
In 1954, Paik was the major driving force behind the current South Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. Having learned from the best at the time, Paik served as the chief of staff twice and spent another 10 years as a diplomat before establishing the country’s first subway line as minister of transportation in the 1970s. From 1971 to 1980 he served also as the head of several domestic chemical companies.
By Yoo Kwang-jong [email@example.com]