Paik Sun-yup

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Paik Sun-yup
ROKA General Paik Sun Yup July 27th 2011 CE.jpg
Paik in July 2011.
Born(1920-11-23)23 November 1920
Kangsŏ-gun, Japanese Korea
(now Nampho, South Pyongan Province, North Korea)
Died10 July 2020(2020-07-10) (aged 99)
Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul, South Korea
Allegiance Empire of Japan  South Korea
Service/branch Manchukuo Imperial Army
Korean Constabulary
 Republic of Korea Army
Years of service 1944-1945
Rank First Lieutenant
First Lieutenant
Commands held5th Infantry Regiment
5th Infantry Division
1st Infantry Division
I Corps
II Corps
First Republic of Korea Army
Republic of Korea Army
Republic of Korea Armed Forces
Battles/warsWorld War II
Korean War
Paik Sun-yup
Revised RomanizationBaek Seon-yeop
McCune–ReischauerPaek Sŏnyŏp

Paik Sun-yup (Korean백선엽; Hanja白善燁; November 23, 1920 – July 10, 2020) was a South Korean military officer. He served both Manchukuo and South Korea, the latter during the Korean War.

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[edit]

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 second of three siblings, with an older sister and younger 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.[1]


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.[2]

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, Gando in Korean). He joined the Japanese campaign on northern China for ten months from 1944 to 1945 until its defeat by the Soviet Army.

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.

Korean War[edit]

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.

Later career[edit]

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(Taiwan) 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 Japan Airlines Flight 351 at Gimpo Airport by the 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.

On January 30, 2019, a group in consisting of retired South Korean generals of which Paik served as an advisor, released a statement criticizing the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the Comprehensive Military Agreement which was co-signed with North Korea at the September 2018 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.[3][4]

He died on July 10, 2020, at the age of 99, four months short of his 100th birthday.[5]

Historical photos[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paik 1992, p. 79
  2. ^ Paik 1992, p. 80
  3. ^ "Korean Retired Generals Defending the Nation Statements". East Asia Research Center. 3 February 2019. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  4. ^ Shim, Elizabeth. "Retired South Korean generals: Our country is in 'crisis'". UPI. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  5. ^ 이해아 (2020-07-11). "Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup dies at 99". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved 2020-07-10.


External links[edit]

Media related to Paik Sun-yup at Wikimedia Commons