David and Ann Wherley were high school sweethearts who were king and queen of their high school prom in York, Pennsylvania. They were preparing to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary next month, but their lives were tragically cut short last week in the Metro train crash in Washington.
A former commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, David Wherley was also the military man who, on September 11, 2001, deployed planes over Washington to protect the White House and take out any aircraft that threatened the Capitol. “They said, ‘Challenge them, try to turn them away; if they don’t turn away, use whatever force is necessary to keep them from hitting buildings downtown,’ ” Wherley told the Washington Post in 2002. Wherley, a 40-year military veteran, served as the commanding general of the D.C. Guard from 2003 to 2008. “I am personally grieved by this unbelievable tragedy. David and Ann were two of the best people you could ever want to know. This community will grieve, as will many throughout the country who knew and loved them both,” said Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, who succeeded Wherley when he retired. The two were among the nine killed June 22 when two trains crashed on the Red Line of Washington’s Metro commuter rail. It was the deadliest train crash in the history of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The Wherleys, both 62, are to be interred during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday. On the morning of the September 11 attacks, Wherley was the commander of the 113th Fighter Wing at Andrews Air Force Base. Lt. Col. Kevin McAndrews worked with Wherley on September 11. He told CNN affiliate WJLA that the general was the consummate professional that day. “He was constantly thinking about … what did we need to do to protect ourselves and to protect everybody in our region,” McAndrews said.
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Friends say Wherley was a down-to-Earth general who connected well with regular people, especially those who served the country. A commanding general, he refused to be chauffeured around the nation’s capital. Instead, he always rode the Metro to and from work, according to the military. He and his wife volunteered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and met with wounded troops. They had grown close to 1st Lt. Russell Kaufmann, a D.C. Army Guardsman wounded in Iraq and recovering at the hospital. Kaufmann suffered brain damage and paralysis after being hit by a sniper’s bullet, according to the military. The couple had just finished a volunteer orientation program at the medical center before they boarded the Metro. “They both volunteered much of their time to the families of the D.C. National Guard men and women, especially during their deployments,” the military said in a statement. “They were an inseparable couple, and General Wherley loved riding on the Metro.” The couple met in their hometown of York, Pennsylvania, in the 1960s and had been by each other’s sides ever since. They married July 19, 1969, the day before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Wherley began his military career that year, when he signed on with the ROTC program at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. He became a fighter pilot and logged more than 5,000 hours of flying time over the years. More recently, he helped secure $500,000 to help set up a military education and training program for high school dropouts in the D.C. area. “I’m excited about this initiative that will help out youth in the city improve their lot in life,” he told the Post in 2006. “It’s the right thing to do for the city.” Ann Wherley worked as a guide at the U.S. Botanical Garden near the U.S. Capitol in recent years. She loved to cook gourmet meals. She held a degree in education from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and worked as a mortgage broker for 10 years before retiring in 2007. Friends say that the couple were looking forward to an upcoming trip to Europe and that they loved doting on their baby granddaughter.
The Wherleys are survived by a son, David, a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team; a daughter, Betsy; and one grandchild, 11-month-old Evann, according to the National Guard. The seven others killed in the collision were: train operator Jeanice McMillan, 42, of Springfield, Virginia; Mary Doolittle, 59; Lavanda King, 23; Veronica Dubose, 26; Cameron Williams, 36; and Dennis Hawkins, 64, all of Washington; and Ana Fernandez, 40, of Hyattsville, Maryland.