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Larry Hoban, senior member of Preston County Honor Guard, has died

With their pressed uniforms and crisp salutes, the members of the Preston County Honor Guard take good care with every military funeral they tend to.

Maybe even more so, at Larry Hoban’s grave last week in Oakland, Md.

That’s because he was one of theirs.

The senior member of the detail.


At 96, Hoban, who died Jan. 24 in Kingwood, had participated in military funerals from the end of World War II through last October, when his health began to fail.

During those decades, the Terra Alta man was simply there, in military cemeteries and church plots, helping to ease the passage of a fallen brother or sister, for the families left behind.

In rain, snow, sweltering heat and numbing cold, you would see him, looking younger than his years, at parade rest or full attention, with his rifle at the ready, for the salute.

Bonni Shaffer, whose husband, Daniel, is also part of the guard, said Hoban never faltered.

“He had this sense of duty,” Shaffer said, of Hoban.

“He’d always say, ‘I have to be here for our veterans. This is what I do.’ ”

Orders, technically

Hoban was there when his country called for him in 1943, at the height of World War II.

The lanky, smiling 20-year-old from Terra Alta was a shade-tree mechanic-shaman who could fix anything.

Uncle Sam took full advantage of his aptitude in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the U.S. Air Force.

It wasn’t long before Hoban found himself on the island of Guam in the South Pacific — all that water for a kid from the mountains — working as an electrician on B-29 bombers.

You had to keep after the B-29s.

Known as the “Superfortress,” they were the high-tech planes of the day.

Pressurized cabins.

Early analog computer systems to guide the machine gun turrets.

An intricate, dual-wheeled landing system.

The plane cost $3 billion when it rolled on the line in 1943, the year after Hoban was drafted.

An electrician on a B-29 was the equivalent of a neurosurgeon in coveralls.

The nervous system, the wiring, had to be maintained so the big birds and their payloads could get in the air.

Hoban spent a lot of time in the air, also.

“If you fixed it, you had to go up in it,” he told The Dominion Post previously.

He would sit in the co-pilot’s seat, watching the props with his eyes and listening to the plane’s heartbeat with his ears.

At war’s end, Hoban came back home to Preston County, and Terra Alta. He married a local girl, raised a son and went to work at Kelly Springfield Tire Co.

Sentiment and ceremony

The honor guard beckoned. It was a matter of respect, he said.

By the time Darrell Shaffer, who is no relation to Bonni Shaffer, joined in 2004, Hoban was an institution on the detail.

He had served hundreds of funerals by then. Thousands, maybe.

Everybody liked his inherent friendliness and sense of humor, Bonni Shaffer said.

“He was a nice fella,” she said.

A politely stubborn one, also, Darrell Shaffer added.

Hoban’s eyesight began failing but he still never missed a funeral, his fellow veteran in the guard said.

“One our guys would drive him,” he said. “He was Larry. He had to be there.”

Take me home

Like most of the young men of his era who served, Pearl Harbor got him into this. The attack on the U.S. fleet in Hawaii made it impossible for the country to stay out of war.

Pearl Harbor, in effect, also brought him home.

After V-J Day, Hoban hitched a ride from Honolulu to California on a heavily patched-up USS West Virginia.

Japanese Zeros rendered the big ship everyone called the “Wee-Vee” dead in the water on Dec. 7, 1941.

The mast of the USS West Virginia now holds a place of honor at Oglebay Plaza, which is across from the Woodburn Circle on the downtown campus of WVU.

The university recognizes the sailors who served on the Wee-Vee every year on or around Dec. 7, depending on whether or not that day falls on a weekend.

In 2017, Dec. 7 arrived on a Thursday that was sunny, with a tang of autumn still in the ar.

That’s when Larry Hogan answered a second call.

A chaplain gave a gentle nod in his direction.

And with nary a stumble, Hogan strode to the center of the plaza, to ring the ship bell.

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