Blackshear native Larry Lamar Batten grew up in a family of five siblings and a single mother. He learned early in life that whatever he was going to accomplish, he would have to earn it on his own.
“I was fortunate to obtain a job in a drug store at an early age. I continued to work there through high school and decided to make pharmacy a career,” he explained. “I graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor of science in pharmacy in June 1966 and was allowed by the local draft board to continue to work until I satisfied requirements for Georgia and national board certification, then was drafted after licensure.”
The Unites States Army was glad to have his skills, although it took some time in basic training to recognize that he might serve their needs better as a pharmacist than an infantry soldier. He was pulled out of infantry training two weeks before completing the course, and sent to the U. S. Reynolds Hospital, Fort Sill, Oklahoma for one year.
Basic and combat training revealed some hard truths to Batten about himself.
“I played sports through high school and thought I was in terrific condition but after all the Army training, I found out conditioning could be drastically improved upon. Even today I do not fear anything because of our training and would certainly defend the U.S.A. if ever needed.”
Batten’s next duty station in 1969 was half a world away, in the middle of a little-known, little-documented conflict referred to as “the second Korean war.” The terms of the original cease-fire prohibited any new weapons entering either North or South Korea. China and the Soviet Union denied North Korea’s requests for assistance to establish nuclear weapons in violation of the treaty. This left leader Kim Il-Sung few options to purse his plans to forcibly reunify the country under his control. He resorted to a campaign of propaganda, irregular warfare and agitation. Tensions grew, and the United States diverted over 50,000 troops from their intended destination in Vietnam and sent them, including Batten, to Korea instead.
“All the medics in the 548th General Dispensary had a close call two days before being shipped home,” he recalled. “We had an official alert and we all dressed in full combat gear. We were issued weapons and were awaiting orders to report to the 38th parallel because of an incursion.”
Ultimately, Batten’s medical group was not sent into the combat zone. He remarked with irony, “You knew it was serious when they started arming the pharmacists!”
After being discharged from the military in 1969, Batten took the Army’s valuable gifts of fitness and confidence into the next phase of his life. He has owned and operated an independent pharmacy in Waycross for many years, and rides a bicycle 30-65 miles a day. He has served as the Chairman of the Pierce County Board of Education and stays active in his church. He serves as the major of the 4th Brigade of the all-volunteer State Defense Force, which serves under the command of Georgia’s Governor and assists both the Georgia Army National Guard and the Georgia Air National Guard in the event of emergencies.
On Honor Flight, he most enjoyed “seeing and meeting other brothers who had served, sharing some experiences and visiting the monuments, which I had never had the opportunity to see.”
Batten has kept in touch with many of the men with whom he served in Korea.
“We mostly contact each other around holidays, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, etc. The bond between friends I met always made me say that we may even be closer than my two brothers were… if that is possible.”