WHEN I began working for The Times Leader in 1982 as a correspondent I would type my stories at home and deliver my copy to the paper. Before that climb up the marble steps to the newsroom, I’d pass a bronze plaque bearing the names of the men who worked for the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Company who “answered the call to the colors of World War II.”
The plaque is tall, wide and substantial, suggesting the significance of the effort and sacrifice of the 122 men named in three columns. When my byline was first published, some of those veterans still worked at the paper, including Paul Arthur and James Lee. There are many familiar local newspaper names on the Honor Roll including Tom Considine and Robert Patton, who went on to work at the Sunday Independent, and William Watson who founded the Sunday Dispatch. Publishing company owners Harrison “Hal” Smith and A. DeWitt Smith are listed on the plaque, but had sold the paper and moved on by the time I started here.
That sale precipitated the newspaper strike in 1978 that yielded another daily paper and competition that lingers to this day. That conflict was heated and occasionally violent — even when I started — so it’s not too surprising that the management felt strongly about commemorating the effort. At some point in the late 1980s or so, the Honor Roll was removed and replaced with a new plaque honoring the publisher who led the newspaper through the strike.
The strike period was very difficult but a newspaper war can’t compare to a real war. And nothing says as much as the name Kenneth Hobbs at the top of the honor roll and the star aside the name.
Hobbs lived on Andover Street in Wilkes-Barre, graduated from Meyers High School in 1937 and went to work in the advertising department of the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Company, according to published reports from back then. Like many of his generation, Hobbs went into military service during World War II.
He reached the rank of corporal and was shipped to Europe where he was killed in action in 1945 in Germany.
In August, 1948 the Wilkes-Barre Record — the morning paper then — reported on the belated funeral service held for Hobbs, complete with military honors. The pastor of Second Welsh Presbyterian Church officiated at the funeral home. Military services were held at the grave in Fern Knoll Burial Park, Dallas. The names of the military honor guard were listed as was the name of the bugler. It’s a fair guess he played “Taps.”
Twenty five years ago, when the plaques were switched, many of the employees — even the ones who were at the paper during the strike — were unhappy that the original plaque was removed. We all worried that it was sold for scrap.
But a new owner and a new general manager gave the nod last month to restoring the original Honor Roll to its rightful place. On Thursday — by coincidence, the anniversary of D-Day — it was back home.
And with that we offer the commemoration on the bronze tablet: “Proudly we pay tribute to the members of our organization who answered the call to the colors.”