Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Friends, family and service members gathered Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery to mourn retired Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr. and his wife, Ann Wherley, who were killed in last week’s Metro crash.

The ceremony for the one-time Air Force officer and former commanding general of the D.C. National Guard and his wife included full honors — a military band, bugler, color team, seven-person firing party and escort platoon.

Gen. Wherley and Mrs. Wherley, both 62, were riding Metro home from Walter Reed Army Medical Center on June 22 when their train struck another train near the Fort Totten station, killing nine people. The couple were returning home after completing a volunteer orientation program.

Funeral services for another crash victim, LaVonda “Nikki” King, 23, of Northeast, were also held Tuesday, at Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Capitol Heights.

The funeral service for the Wherleys included a horse-drawn caisson that carried a special flag-draped casket designed to hold cremated remains.

Just after 11 a.m., as the couple’s remains were transferred from a hearse to the caisson, four F-16s performed a flyover in the “Missing Man formation,” in which one jet executes an abrupt pull-up, signifying the fallen pilot.

Fifteen minutes later, the distant drums of the Air Force Band signaled the imminent arrival of the mourning party.

The Wherleys’ daughter, Betsy Regan, 35, trailed the escort platoon and color team and was escorted by her husband, John. The Wherleys’ son, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Wherley, 36, also attended, escorted by his girlfriend.

After clergy members offered prayers, Maj. Gen. Errol Schwartz, D.C. National Guard Commander, presented the flag that had draped the casket, first to Sgt. Wherley and then to Harold “Chap” Strine, Mrs. Wherley’s father. Mrs. Regan looked on tearfully and gently touched the flag as it rested on her brother’s lap.

Mourners remembered the couple as inseparable. Mrs. Wherley was a retired mortgage broker who also volunteered at the U.S. Botanic Garden. The pair met in high school and were less than a month away from celebrating their 40-year wedding anniversary.

Bells chiming at noon sounded the closing of the funeral ceremony, as close friends and high-ranking members of the armed forces, including Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, offered their condolences to the family.

Gen. Wherley, who served as commanding general for the D.C. National Guard from July 2003 to June 2008, was responsible for operational readiness and command control of the D.C. Army and Air National Guard, which includes 2,500 soldiers and airmen.

As commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, he ordered planes to scramble over the District after a plane commandeered by terrorists struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

While serving as the Guard’s commanding general and during retirement, Gen. Wherley’s top priority was the troops’ well-being, according to those who knew him.

Before his appointment as commanding general, he served in the D.C. Air National Guard. Many of those who flew fighter jets with Gen. Wherley were present at the funeral.

“He’s a good, honest, extremely hardworking guy - he’s a workaholic, actually - who loves his family and loves his country and loves his wife,” said retired Col. Vince Shiban, who knew Gen. Wherley since 1982 and recalled flying F-4s and F-16s with him in the District.

Another retired member of the D.C. National Guard happened upon Gen. Wherley at the bank the morning of the crash. He said he most of all remembered Gen. Wherley’s humility.

“I never thought he was a general in the sense of his rank,” said Rick Stallings, who noted that Gen. Wherley resisted fancy titles.

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