Tonight’s excellent History Channel documentary on Rick Rescorla revisits a story we have written about here before. I first wrote about Rescorla in 2003 after finishing James Stewart’s Heart of a Soldier, the book based on his New Yorker article “All 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.) The book is good, not great, but it touches on all the themes of life in a thought-provoking way: life and death, love and friendship, heroism and sacrifice, destiny and fate, and man’s search for meaning.
Rescorla was 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 in part 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.
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 below depicts Rescorla in action 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.” 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.”
UPDATE: Wallace Craig writes:
Thanks for mentioning our comrade in arms and friend Rick Rescorla. Perhaps the History Channel piece will inform more Americans about the true measure of the man.
[We Were Soldiers co-author] Joe Galloway and I have some of his photos from the battle at LZ Xray here, and here are some photos of the Ia Drang reunion two months after Rick left us.
Mr. Craig blogs at Streams.