Rick Rescorla: A Hero on the Battlefield and Beyond
At every stage of life, whether on the battlefield or beyond, the true warrior remains forever guided by the virtue of selflessness. For the true warrior, selflessness means putting the lives of others before your own. The acceptance of this sacred tenet sparks the rise of the true warrior whenever intrepidity is required. On September 11, 2001, a true warrior rose to heroic heights and guided the way forward for over two thousand people during the darkest hour of their lives. That true warrior was Cyril “Rick” Rescorla.
Born in Hayle, a seaport on the north coast of Cornwall, England, Rescorla’s military career began with the British Army in 1957. He gained valuable experience as a paratrooper during his service and was discharged in 1960. In his next move, Rescorla joined up with the Northern Rhodesia Police. It was during his time with the NRP that Rescorla struck up a meaningful friendship with an American soldier who inspired him to join the United States Army. Bringing his combat experience with him, Rescorla entered the American service in 1963 and went on to serve in the Vietnam War.
At the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the first major engagement of the Vietnam War between U.S. forces and North Vietnamese regulars, Rescorla served as a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Heavily outnumbered by an aggressive and determined enemy over three days of intense close quarters fighting, Rescorla led his men with awe-inspiring gallantry. In their famous narrative of the clash at Ia Drang, We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, Harold G. Moore, who Rescorla served under during the battle, and Joseph Galloway, who witnessed the action on that battlefield as a war correspondent, wrote, “Rescorla, as usual, was in the middle of it all.” Moore also regarded Rescorla as “the best platoon leader I ever saw,” high praise from one great soldier to another.
An iconic photograph of Rescorla during the Vietnam War was selected to grace the cover of Moore and Galloway's 1992 bestseller, We Were Soldiers Once...and Young. (Photo Credit: Penguin Random House)
As Michael Grunwald writes for The Washington Post, Rescorla’s “men called him Hard Core, because they had never seen someone so absurdly unflappable in the face of death.” Brave in battle and always there to take care of his soldiers, Rescorla was a true warrior all the way, earning the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, Bronze Stars for Valor and Meritorious Service, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for his actions in Vietnam.
The same noble and selfless qualities that earned him the respect and admiration of his fellow soldiers in the military were also on full display when Rescorla left the world of academia and went into corporate security. Becoming the director for security at Dean Witter Reynolds, which later merged with Morgan Stanley, at the World Trade Center in 1985,“He brought a military regimen to the job, frequently calling his guards at night to make sure they were at their posts, constantly analyzing new security threats,” as noted by Grunwald. Dan Hill, Rescorla’s best friend, reported that his fellow Army brethren sensed during the Gulf War that the main threat facing the World Trade Center was an underground truck bomb. “He told Port Authority,” said Hill, but they told him “it was none of his business.” Port Authority would regret not heeding Rescorla’s warning.
On February 26, 1993, Islamic terrorists detonated a 1,200-pound truck bomb in the parking garage below the North Tower of the World Trade Center. When others panicked, Rescorla sprang to action. Like a true warrior, he took command when the people around him were stricken with fear. To get their attention, Rescorla jumped atop a desk in the middle of the office, and as Grunwald adds, “threated to drop his pants if his people didn’t chill out and listen.” The employees certainly opened their ears and quieted down, allowing Rescorla to get to work and conduct an orderly evacuation. Rescorla did his duty and refused to abandon his post until the entire tower was empty.
Cyril “Rick” Rescorla. (Photo Credit: Overton County News)
After the 1993 World Trade Center attack, Rescorla warned Hill that the terrorists would strike again, but next time, he believed the intended strike would come from the air. To prepare the investment bankers and brokers under his protection for the potential dangers ahead, Rescorla put them through evacuation drills every few months. Grunwald writes that whenever they would gripe, “Rescorla would respond with his Seven P’s: Proper prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.” His awareness, preparedness, and his personal bravery and steady leadership would help save many of those employees’ lives during one of the most heart-wrenching days in American history.
“Calm, as always,” is how one of Rescorla’s security guards described him during the chaos that ensued on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. At 8:48 a.m., Rescorla was in his office in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when Islamic terrorists crashed a hijacked jumbo jet into the North Tower. Despite announcements from the Port Authority warning workers to stay where they were, Rescorla knew he had to act. “The dumb sons of bitches told me not to evacuate,” Rescorla said to Hill over the phone. “I told them I’m getting my people the [expletive] out of here.”
Standing tall when it mattered most, Rescorla wasted no time and immediately ordered employees to evacuate. While Rescorla was directing people with his bullhorn and keeping them off the elevators, his workers put their training to good use, filing “down two stairways, two abreast, just as they had practiced,” as described by Grunwald. By the time a second hijacked jet was flown into the South Tower at 9:07 a.m., most of the employees under Rescorla’s protection had already evacuated the building or were on their way out.
Rescorla using his bullhorn to direct employees during the evacuation on the morning of September 11, 2001. (Photo Credit: CornwallLive.com)
“Stop crying,” Rescorla told his wife over the phone. “I have to get these people out safely. If something happens to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.” As he had done at the Battle of Ia Drang 36 years earlier, Rescorla was in the middle of it all on 9/11. The tower had gone dark, but Rescorla moved past raging fires and shattered windows, clearing floors and directing people to safety. “Rick, you’ve got to get out, too,” a Morgan Stanley regional director told him. Spoken like a true warrior, Rescorla replied, “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out.” Helping those around him until the very end, Rescorla was last seen on the 10th floor, preparing to move upward to continue his work before the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.
“The man died as he lived,” said Joseph Galloway. “What makes some people react like this, God only knows. In Rick’s case, you always expected it.” Rick Rescorla was a true warrior and a hero on the battlefield and beyond. Because of his selflessness and bravery, Grunwald writes, “Morgan Stanley lost only six of its 2,700 employees in the South Tower on Sept. 11, an isolated miracle amid the carnage.” During the chaos of that fateful date in history, Rescrola had told employees, “today is a day to be proud to be American,” and that “tomorrow, the whole world will be talking about you.” The terrorists who struck on 9/11 intended to break America’s will, but heroes like Rescorla showed that even in the most perilous moments, the spirit of a true American warrior can never be broken. He stared the dangers down and gave the last full measure of devotion to save his fellow countrymen. The world will never forget Cyril “Rick” Rescorla.
9/11 Memorial & Museum: 1993 World Trade Center Bombing.
The Washington Post: A Tower of Courage.
U.S. Army: Retired Col. 'Rick' Rescorla gave his life saving others on 9/11.