11 Sep 2012

11 Years Ago: Rick Rescorla Saved 2700 Lives

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Rick Rescorla in Vietnam, 15 Nov 1965
Captain Rescorla in action at Ia Drang, Republic of Vietnam, 15 November 1965.
photograph: Peter Arnett/AP.

Born in Hayle, Cornwall, May 27, 1939, to a working-class family, Rescorla joined the British Army in 1957, serving three years in Cyprus. Still eager for adventure, after army service, Rescorla enlisted in the Northern Rhodesia Police.

Ultimately finding few prospects for advancement in Britain or her few remaining colonies, Rescorla moved to the United States, and joined the US Army in 1963. After graduating from Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1964, he was assigned as a platoon leader to Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, Third Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Rescorla’s serious approach to training and his commitment to excellence led to his men to apply to him the nickname “Hard Corps.”

The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry was sent to Vietnam in 1965, where it soon engaged in the first major battle between American forces and the North Vietnamese Army at Ia Drang.

The photograph above was used on the cover of Colonel Harold Moore’s 1992 memoir We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, made into a film starring Mel Gibson in 2002. Rescorla was omitted from the cast of characters in the film, which nonetheless made prominent use of his actual exploits, including the capture of the French bugle and the elimination of a North Vietnamese machine gun using a grenade.

For his actions in Vietnam, Rescorla was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star (twice), the Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After Vietnam, he continued to serve in the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of Colonel by the time of his retirement in 1990.

Rick Rescorla became a US citizen in 1967. He subsequently earned bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees from the University of Oklahoma, and proceeded to teach criminal law at the University of South Carolina from 1972-1976, before he moved to Chicago to become Director of Security for Continental Illinois Bank and Trust.

In 1985, Rescorla moved to New York to become Director of Security for Dean Witter, supervising a staff of 200 protecting 40 floors in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. (Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter merged in 1997.) Rescorla produced a report addressed to New York’s Port Authority identifying the vulnerability of the Tower’s central load-bearing columns to attacks from the complex’s insecure underground levels, used for parking and deliveries. It was ignored.

On February 26, 1993, Islamic terrorists detonated a car bomb in the underground garage located below the North Tower. Six people were killed, and over a thousand injured. Rescorla took personal charge of the evacuation, and got everyone out of the building. After a final sweep to make certain that no one was left behind, Rick Rescorla was the last to step outside.


Rescorla on 9/11
Directing the evacuation on September 11th.
Security Guards Jorge Velasquez and Godwin Forde are on the right.
photograph: Eileen Mayer Hillock.

Rescorla was 62 years old, and suffering from prostate cancer on September 11, 2001. Nonetheless, he successfully evacuated all but 6 of Morgan Stanley’s 2800 employees. (Four of the six lost included Rescorla himself and three members of his own security staff, including both the two security guards who appear in the above photo and Vice President of Corporate Security Wesley Mercer, Rescorla’s deputy.) Rescorla travelled personally, bullhorn in hand, as low as the 10th floor and as high as the 78th floor, encouraging people to stay calm and make their way down the stairs in an orderly fashion. He is reported by many witnesses to have sung “God Bless America,” “Men of Harlech, ” and favorites from Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. “Today is a day to be proud to be an American,” he told evacuees.

A substantial portion of the South Tower’s workforce had already gotten out, thanks to Rescorla’s efforts, by the time the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, struck the South Tower at 9:02:59 AM. Just under an hour later, as the stream of evacuees came to an end, Rescorla called his best friend Daniel Hill on his cell phone, and told him that he was going to make a final sweep. Then the South Tower collapsed.

Rescorla had observed a few months earlier to Hill, “Men like us shouldn’t go out like this.” (Referring to his cancer.) “We’re supposed to die in some desperate battle performing great deeds.” And he did.


His hometown of Hayle in Cornwall has erected a memorial.

Hayle Memorial


2,996 was a project put together by blogger Dale Roe to honor each victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks. 3,061 blogs committed to posting tributes to each victim. Never Yet Melted’s tribute was to Rick Rescorla, and is republished annually.

6 Feedbacks on "11 Years Ago: Rick Rescorla Saved 2700 Lives"


Wow! A true hero.

Edward Darell, M.D.

I first heard of Rick Rescorla when I read the book, “We were soldiers then and young”. I was extremely impressed by him as he was portrayed in the book. A talented warrior, a born leader, courageous and compassionate. A brilliant motivator of men.
Although I had never been in combat, Mr. Rescorla and I had a number of things in common. We were about the same age and I, too, was raised in England prior to emigrating to the U.S. around the same time as Mr. Rescorla.

I knew nothing of Mr. Rescorla’s life path after he left the military. When I saw his rather unique name in the papers after 9/11, and read about his courage, competence, and selflessness, there was an immediate connection in my mind to Mr. Rescorla’s Vietnam war history. The man still had it, I thought. That rare mix of qualities that sets a man apart from the mass of humanity.

Once again, although I was certainly not the man Mr. Rescorla was when it comes to the qualities mentioned above, in my mind our paths crossed again.

Like so many, I was furious at what had been done to so many innocents, my adopted city, and my country. I tried to be of help in my capacity as a psychiatrist and signed up to do counseling of the berieved. I suppose that, given the huge number of mental health professionals in the area, they had more than they needed, so I never got a call from anyone except the Church of Scientology. They were “training” people to do counseling at Ground Zero. They drove us very close to the site, and gave us paper suits, gloves, and a hardhat. There were no people showing up to be counseled. By then, I was seething with anger and desperately wanted to do something that would relieve my feelings and make me feel less helpless. So on two successive days, I snuck onto the site itself and inserted my masked self into a bucket brigade of construction workers and police. Pieces of the twin towers,very few larger than a computer keyboard, passed through my hands as the huge mountain of debris still smoldered.

I saw many horrifying sights, but this comment is not meant to be about me. It is about Rick Rescorla and the man he was. I felt honored to be standing on the same ground he had stood on as he led so many people to safety at the sacrifice of his life.

When, just today, I read, on this site, that Mr. Rescorla had sung songs to the people he was leading to safety, I recalled that he did the same thing to distract and comfort his troops as they waited through the night for an expected enemy attack to occur at first light. The attack came, and the enemy was decisively defeated in the ensuing engagement.

Mr. Rescorla evidently still had the “right stuff”, even though he was very ill, so many years after the epic and historic battle of Ia Drang.

Mr. Rescorla remains a towering figure in my consciousness, a source of inspiration, and a role model. I am not a religious man, so I will invoke no deities or speak of eternal rest. I will simply say that I hope that Mr. Rescorla will be remembered, and that, the mysterious machinery of the universe permitting, someone, somewhere, at a time of personal fear and danger, will hear his songs, draw from his strength, and find some measure of peace and comfort through a long night. And then win the day.

Jan Houck

Wow! What an amazing story of an amzing man that I just watched on the History Channel. Had a special interest in the Morgan Stanley story since my son was about to go for training in just a few weeks time. What a remarkable man, and how grateful so many people must be to him. I hate to watch and read sad things, but since watching, I have looked for more info on Rick Rescorla, a true hero.


…where do we get such men?…from what forge are they formed?…where?…

james hart

only stumbled upon the story of rick rescorla last night by chance while browsing other things on the net, – WOW what an incredible man!! read his life story about his bravery in vietnam through to his heroics on that fateful september day 11years ago – could not believe my eyes what i was reading. rick was responsible for saving the lives of so many people without once giving a thought for his own – if only there were more people walking this earth with the qualities of this special man a much finer place it would be. rest in peace and god bless you rick.

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