On August 15, 1945, after thirty five disgraceful years of Japanese colonization, Hirohito surrendered. Korean independence activists who were fighting abroad returned to Korea and began to reconstruct the nation. Among them was Admiral Sohn Won-il, who later became the first Chief of Naval Operations.
In 1909, Admiral Sohn was born in Gangseo, Pyeongnam as the first son to Sohn Jeong-do (who once served as the chairman of congress for the Provisional Government of Korea). After graduating from the National Central University in Shanghai with a degree in navigation, he was sent to Germany to study, funded by the Chinese Navy. In 1930, he was arrested when he entered Korea as a secret liaison for a Shanghai independence group. When he was released the next year, he went to China. He came back to Korea as soon as Korea regained independence.
Admiral Sohn Won-il, with the help of other important figures including Jeong Geung-mo, established the Haesadae (maritime affairs unit). He educated personnel after dividing them into two units: navigation and marine engineering.
In order to resolve Haesadae’s financial problems, it was merged with Haesabogukdan (maritime affairs corps for national defense) led by Seok Eun-tae and renamed as Joseon Haesahyeophoe (maritime affairs association).
When the US established a Military Government, representatives of the Haesahyeophoe explained that they were the only organization that could carry out maritime affairs. In turn, the US Military met with Admiral Sohn Won-il to seek advice as to if it were possible to establish an organization that could perform coast guard tasks. Admiral Sohn Won-il led negotiations with the US Military Government and reached an agreement: the Haebangbyeongdan (Coastal Defense Force) would be established and Admiral Sohn Won-il would command it as the first Chief. Under the motto “I devote my life to the nation and its people,” the Haebangbyeongdan was launched. This became the foundation for today’s ROK Navy
November 11th was selected to mark the Navy’s image as the ‘gentlemen of the sea’. The Chinese letter ‘sa’ meaning ‘gentleman’ consists of two parts: ‘sib’ (meaning number 10) and ‘il’ (meaning number 1). The Navy’s commemoration day is still celebrated on November 11th, each year.
Admiral Sohn Won-il held important positions throughout his career. In 1946, he served as the superintendent of the Coast Guard and the Commander in Chief. In 1947, he was inaugurated as the first Chief of Naval Operations. In 1952, he transferred to the first reserve as Navy Vice-Admiral. From 1953 to 1956, he served as the Minister of National Defense. In 1957, he was appointed as the Ambassador to Germany and served the position until 1960. In 1970, he was the president of Korea Oil, and in 1972 he was Chairman of the Public Information Association. From 1972 to 1974 he served as the Chief Director and Advisor to the Korea Anti-Communist League (now, Korea Freedom League). In 1976, he served as the standing Advisor to the Korean International Culture Society. Through various patriotic services and posts, Admiral Sohn Won-il has contributed to national defense, diplomacy and society.
In recognition of his great contributions and achievements, the late Admiral Sohn Won-il has received various awards and decorations: The Order of Military Merit, The Award of the US Silver Star, Legion of Merit, The Order of Military Merit Taegeuk, The Order of Military Merit Gold Star Eulji, The War Medal for suppressing communist guerillas, Denmark Red Cross Medal, US Medal, The War Medal for the Korean War, The UN War Medal and The Order of Military Merit Gold Star Taegeuk.