A day to be proud

Rick Rescorla was a native of England who moved to the United States to serve in the Army during the Vietnam war. In Vietnam he figured prominently in the ferocious battles recounted in We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. In civilian life he took a series of jobs culminating in head of security for Morgan Stanley. Rescorla worked for Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center, where the company occupied twenty-two floors of the south tower; Rescorla himself worked on the forty-fourth floor.

Long before the first World Trade Center attack in February 1993, Rescorla had become preoccupied with the security of the World Trade Center offices. After the 1993 attack, Rescorla developed a security and evacuation program for the Morgan Stanley employees. On 9/11, Rescorla led the evacuation of thousands of Morgan Stanley employees to safety, although he himself died in the collapse of the south tower as he sought to ensure that none of his charges had been left behind.

Rescorla’s story is memorialized in the book by James B. Stewart, Heart of a Soldier. The book grew out of Stewart’s New Yorker article about Rescorla. That article is available online as “The real heroes are dead.” (“The real heroes are dead” is what Rescorla would say in response to recognition of his heroism on the battlefield in Vietnam.) His story should be known and remembered.

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The book recounts Rescorla’s story — the story of a British native who moved to the United States to join the Army and fight in Vietnam. Rescorla was inspired to move to the United States by his friendship with Dan Hill, and their friendship is the one constant theme of the book. Hill and Rescorla had become friends in Rhodesia and self-consciously modeled themselves on the characters of Peachy and Dravot in Kipling’s story “The Man Who Would Be King.” They both served as officers in Vietnam, where in 1965 Rescorla saw harrowing combat in the Ia Drang Valley.

Rescorla died a hero’s death saving his charges at Morgan Stanley in the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Rescorla was head of security for the company and directed the evacuation in which he had long drilled them. Using a bullhorn he shephered his charges into the tower’s one usable fire escape and exhorted them that it was “a day to be proud to be an American.”

In April 2001, thanks to Hill’s efforts, Rescorla was inducted into the Army’s Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame for his service in Vietnam. It is moving to read of the officers who sought Rescorla out to shake his hand and have him autograph their copies of We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, in which Rescorla plays a key role. The famous photo above depicts Rescorla in action in the Ia Drang Valley.

The book closes with the words of Hill, who remained Rescorla’s best friend until his death. His haunting words form a fitting tribute to Rescorla:

“One of my life’s biggest regrets is that I couldn’t have been with Rick at the moment of his great challenge and crisis of his life. Then again, maybe it was so destined, because if I didn’t survive, there would be nobody left to tell the story.

“Kipling wrote that ‘all men should count with you, but none too much.’ I failed there. Rick counted as the world to me.

“Somebody cautioned that if a person or thing means the world to you, and you lose that person or thing, then you have lost the world. I lost the world when Rick died.”

Watching the events unfolding in Iraq today, reading the words of Congressman Kline and the Army officers who wrote us from Tikrit and Baghdad yesterday, I have heard Rescorla’s words echoing in my mind all day. It seems to me that we are witnessing the legacy of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have served and sacrificed like Rescorla to make this day possible.

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