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From the S&S archives:Hank Aaron tours South Korea, visits troops, ballplayers

By STEVE DAVIS | S&S KOREA BUREAU CHIEF Published: September 10, 1982

(Click here to see photos of Hank Aaron's visit to South Korea.)

SEOUL — Baseball great "Hammerin' " Hank Aaron visited South Korea last month as a sports ambassador promoting good will everywhere he went.

Aaron, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in early August for slugging 755 home runs, maintaining a lifetime batting average of .305 and racking up 2,297 RBIs, was sponsored on his Korea visit by the Samsung Group, which owns the Samsung Lions, one of six teams in the newly formed Korea Baseball Organization.

Early in his visit, Aaron toured the Joint Security Area with Lt. Col. Richard A. Pack, the United Nations Command support group-JSA commander and former batboy at the Milwaukee Braves' spring training camp in Palmetto, Florida.

"I was just 12 years old when Hank came up from the minor leagues to join the Braves at spring training in 1952," Pack said. "I've always been a Braves' fan and I was fortunate to see Hank slam the home run that broke Babe Ruth's old record."

Pack said the soldiers at the Joint Security Area and Camp Kitty Hawk were "tickled to death" about Aaron's visit.

"These guys see a lot of VIPs, but to them Hank Aaron was among the greatest," Pack said. "He's a little bit of America to them."

Aaron accompanied Pack to the conference room where Military Armistice Commission meetings are held. North Korean guards peered curiously through the windows.

After viewing Conference Row from the pagoda overlooking the area, Aaron stopped briefly to meet Spec. 4 James Salley, who was on duty providing security for Aaron's visit. They chatted for awhile, then Aaron handed Salley an autographed baseball that said "Best wishes, Hank Aaron."

"Hammerin' " Hank also visited two guardposts manned by soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division, stopped to throw the first pitch at a JSA softball game, then went to Warrior Base to visit more 2nd Division troops in the field.

During the remainder of his visit, Aaron taught batting to the Samsung Lions, watched various baseball games, toured the country and signed several thousand autographs for American and Korean fans.

Before returning home, Aaron shared his thoughts about the role of sports and the U.S. in a peacekeeping role.

"I think sports have done a tremendous job in defusing tension around the world," he said, adding that the presence of U.S. forces in Korea is also a gesture of peace.

"You don't realize what a tremendous job our armed forces all through Korea are doing until you come here," Aaron said. "It's a tremendous job and I know a lot of people take it for granted. But I've always felt that wherever the presence of the U.S. is, it's always a presence of peace."