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By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL/DAEJEON, July 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea held a funeral service Wednesday for Paik Sun-yup, a legendary Korean War hero credited with saving the country from falling under the control of North Korea, with the Army chief vowing to firmly defend the country that Paik saved with "blood, sweat and tears."
U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Robert Abrams also attended the funeral service held at Asan Medical Center in eastern Seoul, lauding Paik as "a patriot, a soldier's soldier and one of the founding fathers of our ironclad alliance" between the two countries.
"Farewell friend and rest in peace," Abrams said.
Also in attendance were Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Park Han-ki and politicians from the ruling and opposition parties. The funeral, presided over by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook, was held on a small scale due to coronavirus concerns.
"The general, with his spirit and body, showed what true patriotism is. He was the symbol of South Korean Army and the symbol of the South Korea-U.S. alliance," Suh said. "We will do our best to firmly defend the Republic of Korea that the general, together with comrades, defended with blood, sweat and tears."
Paik, South Korea's first four-star general, died Friday at age 99.
He is credited for leading key battles during the 1950-53 war and contributing to the modernization of South Korea's armed forces, though he is also a subject of controversy over his pro-Japanese activities during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.
Paik's body was to be buried at the National Cemetery in the central city of Daejeon.
Near the cemetery, civic groups for and against his burial at the site held rallies. Police dispatched hundreds of officers to prevent clashes.
The late general's supporters blasted the government's decision to bury him in Daejeon, arguing that he should be buried at Seoul National Cemetery where former presidents, war heroes and other top patriots are laid to rest.
Opponents say Paik doesn't deserve burial at any national cemetery, let alone the Seoul cemetery, citing records he served in a pro-Japanese military force and cracked down on Korean guerilla forces fighting for independence from Japan.
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