(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details)
SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) -- Paik Sun-yup, a famous Korean War hero and South Korea's first four-star general, died Friday at age 99, military officials said.
Born in 1920, Paik graduated from a military academy in Manchuria in northeastern China in 1941, and became an officer of the Manchukuo Imperial Army. Manchukuo was a puppet state established by Japan in Manchuria. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910-45.
Upon the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Paik was assigned to lead the 1st Infantry Division. Under his leadership, the division played a critical role in deterring North Korean troops from taking over the entire South in what is known as the Battle of Tabu-dong, one of the fiercest battles of the war.
During the battle, Paik famously persuaded fleeing soldiers to stay by telling them: "I will be at the forefront of the fight. If I retreat, shoot me first."
He later recalled the battle as his fiercest ever.
When South Korean and U.N. forces charged northward to Pyongyang, he arrived there before the U.S. troops and planted a South Korean flag.
"The day we entered Pyongyang was the best day of my life. I was never able to forget that day," Paik later said in a media interview. "I commanded 15,000 South Korean and U.S. troops and retrieved my hometown (near Pyongyang)."
The following year, he became a two-star general to lead the Army corps. In 1952, he was named the top officer in the Army and became a four-star general the following year, the first in Korean history.
In December 1952, when then-U.S. president-elect Dwight Eisenhower visited South Korea, Paik briefed him on the need to increase the South Korean forces, ultimately leading to an expansion from 10 Army divisions to 20.
A recording of Paik telling his stories of the Korean War can be found at the National Infantry Museum in the U.S. state of Georgia.
In 1959, he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then retired from the military in 1960.
After his retirement, the general was appointed ambassador to China in 1960; to France, the Netherlands and Belgium in 1961; and to Canada in 1965. He also served as transportation minister from 1969 to 1971.
In honor of his service, South Korea created the General Paik Sun-yup Award in 2013, which has been awarded to U.S. service members considered to have contributed to the nation's security and the bilateral alliance.
Paik was also the subject of controversy when he was accused in 2009 of being pro-Japan for his service in the Manchukuo Imperial Army.
In accordance with relevant laws, Paik's body will be buried at the national cemetery in Daejeon, central South Korea.
A funeral will be held on Wednesday.
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