A character of steel

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A character of steel

Park Tae-joon, Posco founder and honorary chairman, passed away at a hospital in Seoul at the age of 84. The pioneer of Korea’s steel industry never deviated from his lifelong motto of “Short Life, Eternal Fatherland.” He fought the Korean War as a soldier, led Korea’s industrialization and set up Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech) with far-sighted conviction. He was always at the forefront of improving the nation whenever the country wanted him. As the words carved below his statue succinctly put it, “We pay sincere tribute to a hero who dedicated his whole life to paving the uncharted way.”

Park’s life cannot be comprehended without looking at his devoted career as head of the steel company. On April 1, 1968, defying all doubts about whether a steel mill would succeed in Korea or not, he gallantly took the risk of building it on a stretch of land in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, on the east coast with some money left from the Korean government’s property claims against Japan. He worked a miracle with President Park Chung Hee’s firm support and with dauntless courage epitomized by his motto: “If we fail, let’s drown ourselves in the East Sea.” With its steel production capacity reaching over 30 million tons a year, Posco has become one of the top steelmaking companies in the world, which could not have been achieved without Park.

Park was a far-sighted hero, as clearly evidenced by the establishment of Postech to nurture brilliant engineers and develop top-notch technologies. Thanks to his efforts, Postech has emerged as one of the best science and engineering schools on the globe. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping asked Nippon Steel Corporation to “build a steel company just like Posco” in China, only to be told by NSC’s chairman: “But there is no one like Park Tae-joon in your country.” Two years later, a tumor was found in his lungs as a result of all the dust and pollution he inhaled in his steel factories. After a recovery in 2000 after surgery to remove a malignant cyst from his lungs, Park’s health finally deteriorated, and he died from critical lung damage.

The legendary “Man of Steel” has left us. It’s our task to prolong his unparalleled legacy. In the JoongAng Ilbo’s special series on our past, Park’s installment was entitled “Molten metal never stops." He concluded it by saying, “Looking back on my journey, there was nothing like absolute despair. We built what we are with our bare hands. Don’t forget history belongs to whoever makes it.” It is time for us say farewell. May he rest in peace forever.
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