YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea -- As retired South Korean General Paik, Sun-Yup took the podium Nov. 24 during a celebration in honor of his 95th birthday, the conference room at the Republic of Korea (ROK) Ministry of National Defense quickly grew silent in reverence.
The man who led the first ROK Army Infantry Division into Pyongyang during the Korean War, worked beside some of the most distinguished leaders of the 20th Century including General Douglas McArthur and President Dwight Eisenhower, and contributed greatly to South Korea's meteoric rise into a modern, vibrant nation, didn't disappoint.
As one might expect given his humble persona, Paik bypassed the traditional birthday oratory in favor of treating guests to a captivating recollection of his experiences during the war.
"Sixty-five years ago in 1950 on the 25th of June Kim Il Sung of North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea," Paik recounted. "He attacked at 4 o'clock on a Sunday so (we) were unprepared. It took less than 3 days for Seoul to fall into enemy hands and (we) were forced to retreat back to the Nakdong River. At the time, we were facing the greatest danger since our foundation and our independence was in jeopardy. We were without hope and didn't know what to do."
"On the 29th of June at 10 o'clock in the morning, General MacArthur flew in from Tokyo, landed in Suwon and then went to Yeongdongpo. He stood in front of the (Korean) soldiers and asked, 'Do you still have the will to fight'?"
When the Soldiers responded with a resounding yes, Paik described how the U.S. support that followed helped turn the tide of the war and contributed to South Korea's development into a global power.
"With U.S. support of security assurance and economic aid, South Korea was able to develop, overcome its hunger and poverty, and today has become a country that was once receiving aid…to a country that now aids foreign countries," he explained.
"Without U.S. support we would not have been able to create this nation in the present, so we should never forget the 40,000 U.S. Soldiers who died during the Korean War or the 100,000 who were injured. We should never forget. Our Alliance should be kept eternally we should never forget what the United States has done for us."
As a tribute to Paik and all that he has contributed to ROK-U.S. Alliance during his lifetime, several U.S. and ROK military commanders in attendance presented gifts and expressed their sincere gratitude.
"On behalf of…Eighth Army…Soldiers, high performing professional civilians, and leaders it's really both a privilege and an honor to acknowledge another year of our senior commander, General Paik," said Eighth Army Commander Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux. "Happy birthday and on behalf of the entire group that is assembled here…we just want to thank you for your leadership and your inspiration."
As the celebration ended, Paik thanked everyone in attendance and articulated his vision for the future of the Alliance.
"I thank every one of you for being here today to celebrate my birthday together and I would like to extend my appreciation to the United States for all of (their) support," Paik continued. "I believe that if the ROK-U.S. Alliance continues to strengthen, that one day a day will come when the…Alliance will be able to contribute greatly to world peace."