Monday, June 29, 2009

DC Train Crash takes Great Leader, Great Friend

As a full time speaker and seminar leader for three decades, I’ve worked with many kinds of companies and met many interesting people. Some who said they learned a lot from me but I’d say it was the other way around. Such was the case with one who became a client as well as a close friend. His name was David Wherley.

Our first meeting was at a full-day leadership program I did in Washington, DC for business leaders in the early 90’s. He was a Lt. Col. then. He sat in the front row center. At the lunch break we discovered we had much in common.

He called me a few weeks later and we set up the first of what turned out to be several full day programs I would do over the next few years for the Washington DC Air National Guard.

In late July 2001, my wife accompanied me to Washington where I did two more programs for his squadron. The bonus for me was flying the F-16 with Dave who was then a Major General.

As we lined up on the Andrews AFB runway in that F-16 Viper, off to my left standing in the grass right beside the runway was Tedi, my wife, and her two escort officers. I gave her the double “thumbs up” sign from the cockpit and then BOOM! We were headed into the blue––fast!

He let me fly it through the sound barrier and do aerobatics. He asked if the supersonic Voodoo that I flew over 1,000 times could fly vertical. I said “Almost.” He said, “Watch this.” He brought the nose straight up and lit the afterburner. We were gaining airspeed going straight up! What a memorable day.

Six weeks later the terrorists hit the Pentagon. Within minutes Dave “scrambled” his F-16 squadron into the skies above Washington with a “free fire” order.

Last Monday, June 22, David and his wife, Ann, boarded the train for Walter Reed hospital to visit a former squadron member who had been seriously wounded in Iraq. It was something they often did after David retired.

This past Tuesday morning I heard on Fox News that he and Ann had been killed in the DC train crash. After what he had lived through––to die that way! But Ann was with him. She was always behind him supporting him in his many accomplishments.

Sitting out in our garden the next day, I thought Dave should make one more high speed pass down the Andrews runway. In my mind, Tedi and I were standing next to the runway where she had stood during the take off in July 2001, In this fantasy flight I could see that F-16 getting closer by the second.
Over the end of the runway David pulled up into vertical flight. The burner was lit and he was picking up speed doing vertical rolls as he went out of sight in the bright blue sky.

The “Big Controller in the Sky” cleared them for landing and of course Dave “greased” it in. After parking, he stood up in the seat and extended his hand out to help his “backseater” out. Ann who was always behind him flashed him a smile and a double thumbs up. She took his hand and said, “David it’s been quite a ride.”

David, my friend, this poem is for you. It was written by Navy Captain Jerry Coffee while a POW for seven years in Hanoi.

We’re gently caught by God’s own hand to reign with Him on high;
To dwell among the soaring clouds we knew so well before –
From victory roll to tailchase – at Heaven’s very door
And as we fly among them there, we sadly hear their plea,
“Take care my friend, and check your six. Do one more roll for me.”

1 comment:

TLR said...

What a wonderful tribute! I am very sorry about your friend and all the others. But how wonderful, really, that Major General Wherley and his wife were together at the end--after a life together.

Thank you for the thoughtful post. Tina