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Naval rank is restored years after petty theft

He was court-martialed and demoted for taking some butter 55 years ago. A presidential pardon helped only partly.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 11, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- A 79-year-old veteran has gotten back the rank he lost 55 years ago over the theft of $2.68 worth of butter.

The restored rank means a great deal to retired Chief Petty Officer Raymond P. Weaver, who joined the Navy at 17.

In 1947, he had been in the Navy for seven years. He was a year into his marriage to Jane, and his parents had congratulated him on his recent promotion. "My mother was so proud of me," Weaver said.

Then came the butter incident. It occurred in an officers commissary at a naval base in Lakehurst, N.J. Weaver claimed that a mess cook offered him the 4 pounds of butter, which he took to his family.

The cook was not punished, but Weaver had the book thrown at him. He was court-martialed and demoted to petty officer first class.

Although he was deeply embarrassed and thought the Navy was trying to make an example of him, he stayed the course and remained in the Navy for decades, serving with pride.

Fifty years after the incident, then-President Bill Clinton pardoned him along with 20 others who had been convicted of federal offenses that ranged from bank robbery and Medicaid fraud to the theft of spark plugs.

But the pardon did not restore his rank.

Weaver said that throughout his life he had fought for the reinstatement of rank because he felt he was mistreated.

"I was unfairly judged by the court. That was my first offense, and I shouldn't have been treated like that," he said. "I should have been restricted or fined."

He recently got word that his wish had come true. In retirement, he has been reinstated to honorary chief petty officer. The "honorary" nature means he has forfeited all the benefits that would have come with the reinstatement.

"They thought I was going to make a case over the income and benefits I lost for the demotion," Weaver speculated. He didn't care about that. He wanted to clear his name because in the services "you live by your name."

Restoration has "renewed my faith in human nature and the U.S. Navy. I am glad to get back what I earned," he said.

Weaver, whose modest living room at 6448 41st Ave. N is decorated with framed photos of Navy war vessels, said the reinstatement has taught him that it pays "never to give up the ship nor give up in life."

Raymond and Jane have five children: three boys, all in the military, and two girls. The children never knew of the incident that tainted their father's military career until the 1997 presidential pardon.

"I was ashamed to tell them," he said with his head bowed and and a broken voice.

How did Jane handle the stress on their relationship a half-century ago, so early in their marriage?

"It was pretty tough," she said. "I kept on asking him to give it to the Lord."

Weaver moved his family to St. Petersburg in 1967 upon retirement from the Navy. Today he devotes his time to church activities and volunteer work.

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