Korea’s first general recounts his battles

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Korea’s first general recounts his battles


Retired Gen. Paik Sun-yup, army chief of staff during the Korean War, stands in front of the War Memorial of Korea. By Kim Tae-seong

When the first gunshots of the Korean War were fired, Col. Paik Sun-yup was the commander of the First Division. His division aide called early in the morning and simply said, “War has broken out!” At the time, Paik was receiving training in Gyeonggi and was commuting from his home. He asked Army headquarters for permission to return to his unit.

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 At the start of the war, under pressure from the Chinese, South Korean forces had withdrawn to the Nakdong River perimeter that protected South Gyeongsang and parts of North Gyeongsang, leaving them the only parts on the Korean Peninsula still held by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 [africanu@joongang.co.kr]

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신년 기획 - 세계의 한복판으로 [2] 6·25전쟁 60년 -상처를 딛고 평화의 시대로

“6·25는 서구 문물이 본격적으로 상륙하는 계기였고 그로 인해 한국은 자유·민주 지켜내고 산업화 성공”

60년 전인 1950년 6월 25일 이 땅에서 전쟁이 벌어졌다. 공산주의 북한이 남침하면서 벌어진 싸움이었다. 대한민국은 공산주의의 야욕을 막아냈다. 여러 사람이 전쟁터에 나가 목숨을 걸고 싸웠다. 그중에서 가장 주목해야 할 군인이 있다. 올해 90세의 백선엽 예비역 대장이다. 한국전쟁에서 벌어진 유명한 전투에는 그의 이름이 반드시 오른다. 그는 현장에서 싸움을 지휘하면서 전쟁 국면을 바꾸는 결정적인 승리를 여러 번 일궈냈다. 6·25전쟁 발발 60주년을 맞는 올해 그의 감회는 남다르다. 그때의 비극이 점차 ‘잊혀진 전쟁’으로 치부되는 요즘의 사회 분위기 때문이다. 대한민국 건국 2년이 안 된 시점에서 벌어진 전쟁. 국가가 맞이한 이 최대의 위기에서 현장을 누비며 싸움을 승리로 이끈 노병(老兵)이 중앙일보에 회고록을 연재키로 했다. 그에 앞서 그에게 한국전쟁의 의미를 들어 봤다. 지난달 22일 용산의 전쟁기념관 안에 있는 그의 사무실에서다.

글=채인택·유광종 기자 사진=김태성 기자

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