Paik in July 2011.
November 23, 1920 |
Kangsŏ-gun, Japanese Korea
(now Nampho, South Pyongan Province, North Korea)
|Service/branch|| Manchukuo Imperial Army
Republic of Korea Army
|Years of service|| 1944-1945
|Rank|| First Lieutenant
|Commands held||5th Infantry Regiment
5th Infantry Division
1st Infantry Division
First Republic of Korea Army
Republic of Korea Army
Republic of Korea Armed Forces
|Revised Romanization||Baek Seon-yeop|
Paik is known for his service during the Korean War and for being the first four-star general in the history of the South Korean military. His brother, Paik In-yeop, also served in the Republic of Korea Army during the Korean War, commanding the 17th Independent Regiment at the Battle of Ongjin and again in the Inchon Landings.
Early life and education
Paik was born in Kangsŏ-gun, South P'yŏngan, currently the city of Nampo, on November 23, 1920, during a time when Korea was under Japanese rule. He was born the eldest of three siblings, with a younger sister and brother, being raised by a widowed mother. In 1925 the Paik family moved to Pyongyang where it lived under extremely poor conditions in a single, rented room. Unable to feed her family, Paik's mother attempted to take the children and commit family suicide by jumping from the Taedong River bridge but was dissuaded from doing so by her older sister.
Paik's mother and sister soon took jobs at a rubber factory to pay for his schooling. He attended Mansu Primary School for four years before transferring to Yaksong Primary School. After, he spent five years in Pyongyang Normal School, training to be a teacher in 1939.
Instead of getting into teaching, he entered Mukden Military Academy of Manchukuo. After graduation, he became an officer of the Manchukuo Imperial Army, and served in the Gando Special Force. He engaged in guerrilla suppression work in Jiandao (eastern Manchuria). He joined the Japanese campaign on northern China for ten months from 1944 to 1945.
After the end of World War II he returned to Pyongyang but in December 1945 fled south since rising communists threatened his safety. In South Korea, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Constabulary, the predecessor of the ROK Army. He was committed to build the army, crush communist guerrillas, and purge the army of leftists. However, he did help Park Chung-hee, who was at the time tried as a communist, by persuading President Rhee to commute his sentence and have him released. Paik eventually got him reinstated into the army during the Korean War.
When the fighting broke out on June 25, 1950, he was assigned to defend Seoul as the 1st Infantry Division's commanding officer. He finally retreated to South Gyeongsang but made an important contribution to the defense of the Pusan Perimeter, especially to the victory at the village of Dabudong.
On the move north, his 1st Division under the United States I Corps became the first to enter Pyongyang on October 19. He was one of the first officers to realize the Chinese entry into the war. He assumed the defense of northwestern Korea but was plagued by a larger Chinese army.
In April 1951, Paik was placed in command of the ROK I Corps in charge of eastern Korea. He soon found the South Korean military insufficiently trained; they took intensive training while the battle line was fixed. In July 1951, Paik was elected to represent the ROK military at the Kaesong Truce Talk but failed to attain results.
In November, Task Force Paik was set up to destroy communist guerrillas on Jirisan. The campaign, known as Operation Rat Killer, was successfully finished in March 1952. In recognition of the success, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and Task Force Paik was transformed to the new ROK II Corps. Then he was appointed to Army Chief of Staff in July 1952. He devoted himself in building up the ROK Army. In January 1953, he was promoted to the rank of general in the ROK Army; which made him the first 4-star general in the South Korean military.
Paik successively filled the positions of commander of the First Field Army, the Army Chief of Staff, and the Chairman for the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff until his retirement from the army in May 1960. He was fully aware of the political developments taking place in Korea at the time (and privately thought that the army was losing its discipline), but chose not to participate with either side. He was overseas when the May 16 coup occurred.
He was appointed as an ambassador to the Republic of China in 1960, to France in 1961, and to Canada in 1965. From 1969 to 1971, he served as Minister of Transportation and launched the construction of the Seoul Metropolitan Subway. In 1970 he faced the hijacking of a Japan Airlines plane at Gimpo Airport by Japanese Red Army. He served as the presidents of two national policy companies in sequence. He participated in the construction of the War Memorial at Yongsan, which opened in 1990.
Paik is the author of From Pusan to Panmunjom: Wartime Memoirs of the Republic of Korea's First Four-Star General.
Media related to Paik Sun-yup at Wikimedia Commons