By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
They were high school sweethearts, the king and queen of the senior prom, who, approaching 40 years of marriage and with an 11-month-old granddaughter to dote on, were settling nicely into retirement.
But retirement for the Wherleys didn't just mean travel and golf and dinner parties -- though there was plenty of that. As the former commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, David F. Wherley Jr. had sent soldiers into combat. And one of them, whom Wherley and his wife, Ann, visited often, was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after being hit by a sniper in Iraq.
Inspired by that soldier, the Wherleys wanted to do more to help wounded warriors, friends and family said. So on June 22, they attended an orientation for volunteers at Walter Reed. Riding the Red Line home, the Wherleys were killed in what became Metro's deadliest crash.
Yesterday, a day after an emotional memorial service packed with more than 1,000 people at the D.C. Armory, the couple, both 62, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a service that included a flyover of four F-16s.
Simultaneous services were held elsewhere for LaVonda Nicole "Nikki" King, 23, the youngest victim of last week's crash, and Dennis Hawkins, 64, who also died in the crash. Thousands of mourners gathered to bid farewell to the two.
King, of Northeast Washington, was preparing to open a beauty salon, LaVonda's House of Beauty. She was talking to her mother about it on a cellphone as she boarded the Red Line train that afternoon. They were planning to distribute fliers to promote the new business. "She was so excited," her mother, Tawanda Brown of Upper Marlboro, said. "She had so many dreams about the beauty salon."
Hawkins was on his way from work at Whittier Elementary School in Northwest to Bethesda Baptist Church in Northeast to teach vacation Bible school at the time of the crash, relatives said. The D.C. native was the oldest of eight siblings. With his death, six survive.
A retired Air National Guard major general, David Wherley "felt responsible and accountable to everyone he sent into harm's way," chaplain Stephen Tillett said at Monday's service.
He was, friends and family said, every bit the stoic leader, tough and cool, especially on Sept. 11, 2001, when, as commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, he ordered fighter planes into the skies over Washington in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But before doing that, he gathered his pilots and laid out the rules of engagement, recalled Lt. Col. Dan Caine.
"Then he paused, and looked at us and said, 'I trust you,' " Caine recalled in an interview. "He had a calmness and a sense of stability that was reassuring."
At their Capitol Hill condo, within walking distance of the Armory, it was Ann Wherley who was in charge, telling her husband, "You might be a general down the street, but not here," Tillett said. "She allowed him to be commanding general of the trash detail."
But there was also a softer side that those in his command didn't always see. There was David Wherley the chocoholic, who often needed sweet fixes. There was David Wherley the "technogeek," who bought a Wii "before the rest of us even knew what it was," said close friend Don Mozley.
And there was David Wherley the husband.
During his military career, which began in ROTC at Fordham University and included a deployment to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War, he worked long hours and spent a lot of time away from home.
But nearing retirement, he would make it a point to go home for lunch, said Lt. Col. Kevin McAndrews, the spokesman for the D.C. National Guard.
"We just don't want to be apart from each other," McAndrews remembered him saying one day after Ann called to ask when he would be home for lunch.
Ann Wherley, a gourmet cook, was a successful mortgage broker and also volunteered as a docent at the U.S. Botanical Garden. She was a breast cancer survivor who had a keen sense of when those close to her needed a friend, even if they didn't ask.
When the father of Toni Aluisi, a neighbor and friend, was ill, "she was always there for me," Aluisi said. "She'd call and say, 'I'm taking you out right now.' " About a month ago, the Wherleys and Aluisi went to see the Temptations at the Kennedy Center.
"The three of us were singing the whole time," Aluisi said. "At one point they looked at each other, and they had this look in their eye, and he grabbed her hand."
They were in Weight Watchers together, razzing each other over who could lose the most weight. And they threw dinner parties, which were showcases for the latest recipes Ann Wherley was trying. Although Ann was in charge of the kitchen, David "would purposefully mix people from different groups, and they were real adamant that you had to sit boy-girl," said friend Peggy Mozley.
For years, they hosted a party on New Year's Day, making their guests wear silly paper hats and give predictions for the coming year that ranged from the serious (Who will win the election?) to the silly (Will aliens invade Earth?).
They grew up in York County, Pa., with a childhood of homemade ice cream, forts in the woods, baseball and mothers who rang cowbells to summon their children for supper, said Clare Wherley, David's sister.
Theirs was "a love story so complete, and special words cannot do it justice," said Betsy Regan, the couple's 35-year-old daughter.
Father's Day, the day before he and his wife died, David Wherley couldn't stop talking about his two children, said Charles King, who spent the day with him, playing golf.
Wherley was thrilled that Regan had had a little girl, Evann. And he crowed about how his son, Army Staff Sgt. David Wherley, 36, was a member of the Golden Knights parachute team and had recently jumped with former president George H.W. Bush in Maine.
"He talked about how proud he was that they had achieved their mission and raised them to be a very capable set of adults," King said. "He was a very, very happy man."
While their husbands played golf, Ann Wherley and Marie King were at the beach, lazing and shopping and reading. The forecast called for a few more sunny days, and King urged her friend to stay.
Ann Wherley said she would love to. But she and David had an appointment at Walter Reed that they just couldn't miss.
In lieu of flowers, the Wherley family requests the donations be made to the Ann and David Wherley Charitable Gift Fund, c/o Lassus Wherley, 1 Academy St., New Providence, N.J. 07974.
Staff writers Annie Gowen and Jonathan Mummolo contributed to this report.