Fallen Heroes: Sergeant Robert J. Wherley

1st Marine Division Korean War

Patriotism and the desire for service are often driving forces when one makes the decision to serve their country. That service often begins at a time of peace, but is punctuated by the ultimate sacrifice in a subsequent conflict. This fallen hero, determined to serve his country as the Second World War ended, is one example of such a sacrifice.


There is no way to know why Heinrich Wherley (1807-1876) decided to move his family from York County, Pennsylvania to Tuscarawas County, Ohio. He and his wife, Mary Markley (1810-1879), were living in Tuscarawas by the time their eldest son was born in 1828. The Wherley family’s homestead was found just outside Stone Creek (then Philipsburg) in Jefferson Township. Daniel Wherley (1841-1896), a son born in 1841, married Rachel Everhart (1839-1924) and started a large family that included a son named John H. Wherley (1862-1936).

John Wherley worked in brickyards and sawmills in Jefferson Township in the latter half of the 19th century while he raised his own family along with his wife Emma Steinbach (1864-1928). One of their sons, Roscoe Wherley (1899-1989), married Ora Blind (1899-1989) around 1921. The couple moved to Dover were they raised their family, including the subject of this story Robert John Wherley (1927-1951). Robert was one of three children in the Wherley household.

Dover High School Freshman Robert John Wherley, 1942. (Source: ancestry.com)

The Wherley children attended school in Dover, attending Dover High School during World War Two. Robert was active in the school’s cheerleading squad as he watched many of the older boys graduate and go on to serve their country in the war. That war was coming to a close by the time Robert graduated from high school, but, he served for two years in the merchant marine after graduation. Following the completion of Robert’s two year obligation to the merchant marine, he subsequently enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in January 1948.

Robert underwent his basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. After completing his basic training he was sent to Camp Legeune, North Carolina where he underwent training as an artilleryman. Robert, now a corporal, was in Korea with the 1st Marine Division’s 11th Regiment in January 1950 where he was assigned to Fox Company, of the regiment’s 2nd Battalion. The 11th Marine Regiment was, and is, an artillery regiment of the United States Marine Corps. At some point while serving in Korea, Robert saw other men flying their state flags on the aerials of their jeeps. Not wanting Ohio to be unrepresented, he wrote a successful request to the State of Ohio for an Ohio pennant to fly from his jeep.

Soldiers of the 1st Marine Division withdrawing from the Korean town of Koto-ri during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign, 1950. (Source: https://archive.org/details/The1stMarineDivisionAndItsRegiments-nsia/page/n23/mode/2up)

Robert’s unit took part in the establishment of the Pusan Perimeter in August 1950 to help stem the advance of the North Korean invasion of the south. The unit also was used in the Marines’ landing at the Inchon Peninsula on Korea’s west coast about a month later. Casualties mounted in the 1st Marine Division and it was around this time period that Robert was promoted to Sergeant. The Marines were eventually sent back to the east coast of Korea where they participated in, and suffered greatly, during the brutal Chosin Reservoir campaign of 1950.

The United Nations’ forces had determined to undertake a major offensive, named Operation Killer, against the North Korean and Chinese forces in late February 1951. The Marines, including Robert’s unit, were tasked with advancing on and holding positions to the north of the Korean town of Hoengsong. On the morning of the 22 February 1951, Robert’s FOX Company jumped off at 8:30 in the morning and advanced forward meeting little to no resistance. They could, however, hear the bugle calls of the enemy to their front.

The next day, with the 11th’s guns now in position, the Marines began firing into the positions of the North Korean and Chinese forces in their front. Robert Wherley’s FOX Company once again was ordered forward and came under heavy small arms and light artillery fire. The Marines managed to overrun the enemy’s positions and had achieved their objective by 2:00 pm that afternoon. The battalion suffered 21 soldiers wounded and one soldier, Sergeant Robert J. Wherley, killed. Robert’s date of death was given as the 24th of February, but the unit’s after-action reports record his death as occurring on the 23rd of February. Robert, newly engaged at the time of his death, was interred in the Dover Burial Park.

Sergeant Robert John Wherley’s headstone at Dover Burial Park. (Source: findagrave.com)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.

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