Excerpt - Details Emerge of Victims in Deadly Train Crash
As investigators continued searching Wednesday for causes of the worst rail accident in the city’s history, family and friends of the victims tried to deal with their losses.
One of those friends was Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, who knew of the Air Force, who headed the District of Columbia’Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr.s National Guard unit until his retirement a year ago. She commented on how he had faced dangers around the world, only to die on a mundane train ride.
“General Wherley was accustomed to risking his life for his country as commander of two flying squads,” Ms. Norton, the district’s delegate to Congress, said, “but he found his rest yesterday in the hometown he grew to love and adopted as his own.”
She said that it was on his order that jets scrambled over Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
General Wherley’s wife, Ann, 62, a mortgage banker, was also killed in the crash. After buying a condominium on Capitol Hill, the couple involved themselves in the civic life of their community, Ms. Norton said. The general recently had heart surgery for a valve problem but was recovering and was planning a trip to Europe in October, she said.
General Wherley and 9/11
Washington Post, June 24, 2009
... Wherley, a command pilot who logged more than 5,000 hours in military aircraft, gave the order to scramble planes over Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
Wherley, 62, who later became the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, was lauded for the educational programs he helped create for high school dropouts. But his military résumé and presence did not define who he was, according to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). ...
The day of the terrorist attacks, her husband was commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base. He detailed the harrowing minutes of tough decision making in a Washington Post interview in 2002.
Wherley said the moment he knew the attacks would go beyond New York was when one of his officers, whose husband worked at the Pentagon, saw on television that the second tower of the World Trade Center had been hit and began shrieking.
"You've got to be strong," Wherley told the officer before racing out of the building and running several hundred yards to squadron headquarters. There, officers wanted to head to the skies right away, but Wherley was measured. "We have to get some instructions," Wherley told squadron officers. "We can't just fly off half-cocked."
The general went to work through classified communications channels and within a half-hour received oral instructions from the White House giving the pilots extraordinary discretion to shoot down any threatening aircraft. ...