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U.S. Forces Korea chief honors late Korean War commander

Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup, who helped defend South Korea when the North invaded on June 25, 1950, died Friday. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup, who helped defend South Korea when the North invaded on June 25, 1950, died Friday. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

July 13 (UPI) -- U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams paid his respects Monday to Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup, who died Friday at the age of 99.

Abrams, who visited the funeral home at Asan Medical Center for the South Korean war commander on Monday, delivered his condolences to Paik's family on behalf of the United Nations Command.

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Abrams told Paik's family the late military commander was "at the heart and soul of the [U.S.-South Korea] alliance," according to Yonhap.

"We are deeply grateful for his service," the USFK chief said.

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On Sunday, the White House National Security Council tweeted, "#SouthKorea is a prosperous, democratic Republic today thanks to Paik Sun-yup and other heroes who put everything on the line to defeat Communist invaders in the 1950s.

"We mourn Gen. Paik's death at age 99 and salute his legacy."

Paik's death comes at a time when critics say relations between Washington and Seoul are facing ongoing challenges. Former White House national security adviser John Bolton has said U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw troops from the Korean Peninsula, citing disagreements with Seoul over defense costs.

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Abrams, who has previously dismissed speculation about U.S. plans of troop withdrawal, did not take questions from reporters on Monday.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki, who attended the memorial, said Paik saved South Korea, a "candle flickering in the wind," in the wake of a North Korea-led invasion of Seoul on June 25, 1950.

"I will fulfill the general's wishes and maintain solid military preparedness," Park said Monday.

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Paik was the first four-star general in South Korea's history. According to war historians, Paik contributed to the defense of the Pusan Perimeter and fended off a North Korean invasion of the South's second-largest city, where refugees from Seoul were taking shelter as war raged across the peninsula.

Some South Koreans have criticized Paik for serving in the Manchukuo Imperial Army when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule.

President Moon Jae-in has sent flowers to Paik's memorial but has not visited the site, according to the Chosun Ilbo.

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