Paying tribute to Rick Rescorla

Posted: Feb 27, 2002 12:00 AM
If politicians can find it in their hearts to give away government aid to illegal alien relatives of the victims of Sept. 11, isn't it time to reward a naturalized American hero who sacrificed his life to save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives on that day? Rick Rescorla was born in England and came to the United States to enlist in the Army in 1963. He was a key figure in the groundbreaking Vietnam War book "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young," which was turned into a movie starring Mel Gibson that debuts nationwide next weekend. A photo of Rescorla, haggard but fierce with his bayonet fixed, graces the cover of the true-life military thriller co-authored by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and former UPI reporter Joe Galloway. Lt. Rescorla's bravery and good humor were infectious. In the midst of battle, the fierce anti-Communist sang old Cornish tunes to boost morale. The men of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry nicknamed him "Hard Core" for his daring exploits. But beneath this platoon leader's steel exterior lay soulful introspection. Rescorla, who later became a military instructor, construction firm owner, writer, lawyer and professor, shared with Moore and Galloway his recollections after the infamous battle at Landing Zone X-Ray in Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley: "We were flown away, but the stench of the dead would stay with me for years after the battle. Below us the pockmarked earth was dotted with enemy dead. Most of the platoon were smiling. Suddenly a grenadier next to me threw up on my lap. I understood how he felt. He was, like many, a man who had fought bravely even though he had no stomach for bloodletting." Rescorla earned a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and Bronze Stars for Valor and Meritorious Service. He became a U.S. citizen in 1967, got married, had children, divorced, remarried and found midlife success on Wall Street as vice president of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. His office was on the 44th floor of the south tower. Rescorla brought military precision, preparation and intensity to the job. He drilled employees regularly and gave prescient warnings to Port Authority officials that the Twin Towers were extremely vulnerable to a terrorist attack. His advice was ignored. During the 1993 World Trade Center garage bombing, Rescorla ensured that every one of his firm's employees was safely evacuated. He was the last man out of the building. Again, he offered his expertise and advice to the Port Authority. Again, it was ignored. And again, on Sept. 11, Rescorla found himself leading a massive evacuation of Morgan Stanley's 2,700-person workforce -- which occupied floors 44 through 74 of the south tower. As soon as the first plane hit the north tower, Rescorla sprung into action. He ignored the admonition of Port Authority security officials to stay put. A co-worker shot a now-famous photograph of Rescorla commanding his troops with a bullhorn. Employees marched two-by-two down the stairwells. Rescorla sang patriotic songs to keep them calm. "Today is a proud day to be an American," he is said to have told co-workers. Most of Morgan Stanley's employees were safely out of the building by the time the second plane hit the south tower. All but six of Morgan Stanley's workers survived. Rescorla was one of the lost six. He was last seen walking back up the stairs, in search of stragglers. Rescorla's bravery has been recounted in worldwide media outlets, from the Washington Post to The New Yorker magazine to the BBC. A movie based on his life is now being planned. And hundreds of veterans have signed an online petition urging President Bush to posthumously award Rescorla the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It's exactly the kind of thing Rescorla would not have wanted. He shunned public praise for his past heroism, kept his war photos and medals in a closet, and told his wife he didn't want to see the Mel Gibson movie based on "We Were Soldiers" when it came out. Rescorla was a man who didn't need to be reminded of the high price of freedom. We do.