In the April issue of the New Criterion, Roger Kimball takes the occasion of a new edition of Kipling’s poetry to make the case for it. Kimball’s essay is “Rudyard Kipling unburdened.” Can Kipling still resonate with modern readers?
He certainly resonated with Rick Rescorla. 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 James B. Stewart’s Heart of a Soldier. The book grew out of Stewart’s New Yorker article “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.)
Rescorla was inspired to move to the United States by his friendship with Dan Hill; their friendship is the one constant theme of the book. Hill and Rescorla had become friends in Rhodesia. They 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 directed the evacuation in which he had long drilled the Morgan Stanley employees. Using a bullhorn he shephered his charges into the tower’s one usable fire escape, exhorting 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. Many of those officers shaking Rescorla’s hand that day no doubt went on to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. The famous photo above depicts Rescorla in action in the Ia Drang Valley.
Hill remained Rescorla’s best friend until his death. Stewart’s book closes with Hill’s words. 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.”
In thinking of his friend, Hill was of course drawing on Kipling’s poem “If.” Kimball notes that as recently as 1995, a BBC poll named it Britain