Yesterday President Trump awarded a posthumous Presidential Citizens Medal to Rick Rescorla. Rescorla’s beloved wife, Susan, and his two children were on hand. The White House tweeted out several notes on the event including a live stream of the 17-minute ceremony. I have embedded the C-SPAN video below. FOX News reports on the award and related White House ceremony here.
Rescorla was preeminently a hero of 9/11. We recall him annually on 9/11 in “A day to be proud.” As President Trump noted in his remarks, however, Rescorla was also a hero of the Vietnam war. Indeed, it was the war that made Rescorla an American; he was a British native who emigrated to the United States to enlist in the Army and fight the Communists in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, Rescorla served as an infantry platoon officer. He led his men in the harrowing combat recounted in Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway’s We Were Soldiers Once…And Young. Rescorla’s recollections contribute to key parts of the narrative.
James Stewart picked up the rest of Rescorla’s story in Heart of a Soldier, based on his New Yorker article “The real heroes are dead.” In April 2001, thanks to the efforts of his friend Dan Hill, Rescorla was inducted into the Army’s Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame for his service in Vietnam. The famous photo above (taken by then UPI reporter Galloway) depicts Rescorla in action in the Ia Drang Valley. Stewart notes how officers sought Rescorla out to shake his hand and have him autograph their copies of We Were Soldiers at the 2001 OCS Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Rescorla died a hero’s death saving all but 13 of his 2,700 charges at Morgan Stanley in the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Rescorla was head of security for the company; he directed the evacuation in which he had long drilled the company’s WTC employees. He knew that a terrorist attack on the WTC was coming and he knew what had happened as soon as the building was hit. His message was one of resolve. Using a bullhorn, he shepherded 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.” It was that kind of day again yesterday.