Patriot Day: Remembering Col. Rick Rescorla

Story is excerpted from the Military Hall of Honor archives; Col. Cyril Richard Rescorla

“Rick” Rescorla was born on 27 May 1939 in Cornwall, Britain. In 1943, during WW2, his home town served as headquarters for the 175th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 29th Infantry Division. Young Rescorla idolized the American soldiers. He was the only child of a single mom but didn’t know it; he later learned that his “parents” were actually his grandparents and that his “sister” and “brother” were really his mother and uncle. He never met his father. 

Rescorla enlisted in the British Army in 1957, and trained as a paratrooper with the Parachute Regiment. He served in Cyprus and Northern Rhodesia. He later moved to the U.S. where he lived in a YMCA in Brooklyn. In 1963 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and completed basic training at Fort Dix, NJ. He attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA, where he also did Airborne training. After graduating from OCS and being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in April 1965, Rescorla was assigned as a platoon leader in Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). In the fall of 1965, he went to Vietnam. His platoon was dropped into the La Drang Valley.

The Battle of La Drang, in November of 1965, was the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The area where the battle took place would become known as the Valley of Death. A total of 305 Americans and 3,561 NVA died in the Battle of La Drang. The bloody battle was described in the book and movie, “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young,” co-authored by Lieutenant General Hal Moore and war correspondent Joseph Galloway. Rick Rescorla is the gaunt, unshaven soldier pictured on the book’s jacket cover carrying his M-16 rifle with bayonet fixed. Lieutenant General Moore described him as “the best platoon leader I ever saw.” Rescorla’s men nicknamed him “Hard Core” for his bravery in battle, and revered him for his good humor and compassion.

Col Rescorla retired from the Army and went to work as the Director of Security at Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center. During the Gulf War he believed that a major threat at the World Trade Center would be a truck-bomb attack on the pillars of the basement parking garage. He was hired by a consultant who said of him, “We walked the garage together, and that was obviously the soft spot. He warned the Port Authority, but they said that it was none of his business.” Later, in 1993, a terrorist truck bomb in that very garage created pandemonium. Rick jumped on a desk and threatened to drop his pants if his people didn’t chill out and listen. In the stunned silence that followed, he launched an orderly evacuation, refusing to leave until the entire tower was empty.

After this incident, Rescorla reasoned that the World Trade Center was still a target for terrorists and that the next attack could be a plane crashing into one of the towers. He expected a cargo plane, possibly loaded with chemical or biological weapons. So, while working for Morgan Stanley, he recommended to his superiors that the company leave Manhattan. This recommendation, however, was not followed. They did, at Rescorla’s insistence, have all employees, including senior executives, practice emergency evacuations every three months—walking down the stairways, two abreast.

11 September 2001

Rescorla was supposed to be on vacation that day. He and his wife were preparing to travel abroad for a wedding, but his deputy, Ihab Dana, wanted to visit Lebanon. Rescorla delayed his own vacation to cover the shift. Of Rick, Dana said: “It should’ve been me in there. Rick was like a father to me.” At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 struck World Trade Center Tower 1. Rescorla, following his evacuation plan, ignored building officials’ advice to stay put. He began the orderly evacuation of Morgan Stanley’s 2,700 employees on twenty floors of WTC 2, and 1,000 employees in WTC 1. Rescorla sang God Bless America and other military and Cornish songs over his bullhorn to help evacuees stay calm as they left the building.

Rescorla had most of Morgan Stanley’s 2,700 employees, as well as others working in Tower 2, safely out of the buildings by the time United Airlines Flight 175 hit the second tower at 9:03 a.m. After leading many of his fellow employees to safety, Rescorla returned to the building to rescue others still inside. When one of his colleagues told him that he too, had to evacuate, Rescorla replied, “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out.” His wife, Susan, watched on television as the United Airlines jet carved through her husband’s tower, and she dissolved into tears. After a while, her phone rang. It was Rick. “I don’t want you to cry,” he said. “I have to evacuate my people now.” She kept sobbing. “If something happens to me, I want you to know that you made my life.” The phone went dead.

According to witnesses Rescorla was seen as high as the 72nd floor still evacuating people, clearing the floors and working his way down. He was last seen heading up the stairs of the tenth floor of the collapsing tower 2. 

His remains were never recovered.

Today we honor Rick Rescorla. His story of self-sacrifice should be not just remembered as a passing thought, but it should be cherished and emulated. Especially by the children and grandchildren of the survivors who would never be alive today without Rick’s sacrifice. But how? How do we cherish his memory? 

How do we make sure his ultimate sacrifice is not forgotten?

Jesus said:

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” ‭‭ 

John‬ ‭15‬:‭13‬

Col. Rescorla’s “friends” were his fellow countrymen. He cared more about them than he did even his own life. I suspect that he didn’t know most of the 2,700 people he rescued. It didn’t matter. One thing is abundantly clear. He did not do what he did—for himself. This is the purest kind of hero—a person who is motivated by complete selflessness. This is love. My friends, the opposite of love is not hate; it is selfishness. 

So, I ask again, how can we, who are living, best honor the patriots who paid the ultimate price on 9/11? Friends, the pinnacle of our nation’s greatness echoes within the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the unassailable truth – that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. What form will YOUR liberty assume? Wherein is the pinnacle of happiness attained? I posit that it is not the pursuit of self-serving desires, but rather the journey of love. Love, the very essence of our self-sacrificing God, who beckons us to partake in a personal relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ.

How do we emulate the memory of the heroes who died on 9/11?

Live selflessly. 

This is how Col. Rescorla lived; this is how Jesus lived.

Let us leave this place determined to use our great liberty to live in love.

We would love to hear your thoughts about this devotional. Did God speak to you or challenge your daily walk with him? Or is there a topic that you would like Kimberly to cover or expound on? Please share with us in the comments below.

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2 Responses

  1. This so touched my heart, and it breaks for all those we lost that day and for their family and friends who have continued on. God bless them all and God bless America

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