From fighting in Vietnam to protecting children

Robert Weaver, then with the Pennsylvania State Police, and William Adderly, at a service for Flight 93 near Shanksville, Penn.
Pennsylvania State Police

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Robert Weaver's father was a career Army man, and Weaver followed him first as a child to postings around the world and then to Vietnam as a soldier himself.

Weaver's family had insisted that he go to college, so he enrolled in what was then the Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener University, and joined the U.S. Army through the college's ROTC program.

In his early 20s, he was a platoon leader and a company commander in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and he served his yearlong tour at the beginning of the 1970s with pride.

"The military to me is just what you do," Weaver said. "It's not optional. You're an American, and if your country's at war, you go in the Army or go in the Navy or go wherever. My dad did that his whole life, 36 years."

For his 21-year-old daughter, Hillary Weaver, that sense of duty characterizes her father too.

"What is truly remarkable to me is not what my dad did during the war, but the extremely productive, selfless life he lived after he returned," she said.

Robert Weaver in Vietnam
Courtesy of Hillary Weaver

Weaver remained in the Army for another year, rose to lieutenant in the Pennsylvania State Police and today at age 66 is a detective in the Westmoreland County District Attorney's Office east of Pittsburgh. He works on some of the most difficult cases: children who have been physically and sexually abused.

"He's full of energy and enthusiasm and persistence and perseverance when it comes to doing the job," Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said. "He's just an absolutely outstanding investigator."

On Sept. 11, 2001, Weaver was a short drive away when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., killing everyone aboard. It had been hijacked after it took off from Newark, N.J., on its way to San Francisco, likely to crash into the White House or the U.S. Capitol. But after those aboard learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, one passenger, Todd Beamer, famously called out, "Let's roll," and he and others rushed down the aisle to overwhelm the hijackers.

Weaver and another officer were the first on the scene, just as the firetrucks arrived, and remained there for about two weeks.

"The site was smoldering when we got there," he later told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I was totally amazed that this big plane was just swallowed up in the ground. You could see the silhouette of the fuselage, two lines for the wings, one for the tail. It took a while for it to sink in that there was an airplane in there."

Later, he brought home a photograph of himself in his uniform holding the hand of a little boy dressed in a black suit with a flower pinned to his lapel.

The boy was William Adderly, the brother of a flight attendant who had died in the crash, Cee Cee Lyles. Relatives had gathered for a service at the field about five days later; the child was antsy, and to allow the family to grieve Weaver took William to see a helicopter and troopers on horseback.

"He had no concept of what was going on," Weaver said.

The moment foreshadowed his work in the district attorney's office, where his success depends on his ability to develop a rapport with the children. They often think that Weaver, a big man with a shaved head, looks like Shrek, the green ogre of the DreamWorks movies, Hillary Weaver said.

"He's got a Shrek card that he gives kids," Peck said. "A lot of us might not want to be known as Shrek, but he revels in that type of role."

The children meet Weaver when they are most vulnerable, and he said that he tries to make them feel they have some control over their lives.

"I feel like I'm actually making a difference in some of these kids' lives," he said. "That's what makes it feel so good."

Weaver was wounded in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart, after his infantry unit tripped a booby trap. Two soldiers were killed, and shrapnel went flying, some of it hitting Weaver in the face, legs and neck.

"I was very lucky," he said. "It was all superficial."

Today he still gets upset when asked about serving in widely unpopular war. Friends died in Vietnam, and he does not like to think that they were killed for no reason.

"They're gone, and if it's for nothing, it makes it worse," he said. "At the time, it was what it was."

"I went over there, and I did my job, and that's what I was supposed to do," he said.

Weaver's wife, Sharon, is a nurse who cares for terminally ill patients. Hillary Weaver is a first-year law student at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh and hopes to be a prosecutor or public defender. Her 22-year-old sister, Abby Weaver, is about to take the test for the Pennsylvania State Police.

"That's what we do," Weaver said. "We care about others."