Most Americans know the military triumphs of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant. But I’d guess not many have heard of 이순신 (Admiral Yi Sun-Sin). But in Korea he is one of the most well-known military heros, credited with saving the country from capture in the late 1500s.
Yi Sun-Sin was born April 28, 1545, in what is now Seoul. He was from a noble ancestry, but his family wasn’t wealthy since his grandfather had been caught up in a political situation. After marrying at 21 and having three children, Yi pursued the military arts, instead of a literary path. At 32 he passed his military service examination.
After an early career in which he was sometimes punished for his integrity, Yi was promoted to naval commander. As such he made changes in the weapons and discipline of his sailors, and improved on an earlier design of the turtleship, the building of which was completed just before a seven-year war with Japan started.
During the Seven Year War, Admiral Yi bravely and successfully defended his country. He won all 23 naval battles in which he fought. And in late 1598, Admiral Yi paid with his life during the battle at Noryang, which was the final battle of the war. He was 54.
He was posthumously awarded high military honors, and continues to live in the hearts of Koreans. Yi has inspired two Korean movies, a television drama, and literary works. If you travel to downtown Seoul, you’ll see Admiral Yi immortalized in a statue that stands in the middle of Sejongro Boulevard, which is the street leading to Gyeongbok Palace.
(Some information for this article was taken from http://www.koreanhero.net/en/home.htm, a site where you can read more about Admiral Yi.)