On September 11, Rick Rescorla Died as He Lived: Like a Hero
By Michael Grunwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2001; Page F01
“You watching TV?”
Rick Rescorla was calling from the 44th floor of the World Trade Center, icy calm in the crisis. When Rescorla was a platoon leader in Vietnam, his men called him Hard Core, because they had never seen anyone so absurdly unflappable in the face of death. Now he was vice president for corporate security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., and a
jumbo jet had just plowed into the north tower. The voices of officialdom were crackling over the loudspeakers in the south tower, urging everyone to stay put: Please do not leave the building. This area is secure. Rescorla was ignoring them.
“The dumb sons of bitches told me not to evacuate,” he said during a quick call to his best friend, Dan Hill, who had indeed been watching the disaster unfolding on TV. “They said it’s just Building One. I told them I’m getting my people the [expletive] out of here.”
Keep moving, Rescorla commanded over his megaphone while Hill listened. Keep moving.
“Typical Rescorla,” Hill recalls. “Incredible under fire.”
Morgan Stanley lost only six of its 2,700 employees in the south tower on Sept. 11, an isolated miracle amid the carnage. And company officials say Rescorla deserves most of the credit. He drew up the evacuation plan. He hustled his colleagues to safety. And then he apparently went back into the inferno to search for stragglers. He was the last man out of the south tower after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and no one seems to doubt that he would’ve been again last month if the skyscraper hadn’t collapsed on him first. One of the company’s secretaries actually snapped a photo of Rescorla with his megaphone that day, a 62-year-old mountain of a man coolly sacrificing his life for others.
It was an epic death, one of those inspirational hero-tales that have sprouted like wildflowers from the Twin Towers rubble. But it turns out that retired Army Col. Cyril Richard Rescorla led an epic life as well. In this time when heroes are being proclaimed all around, when brave actions are understandably hailed as proofs of character, here was a man whose heroism was a matter of public record long before Sept. 11.
At the same time, Rescorla’s own fascination with heroism and hero-tales was a matter of private record. He even co-wrote a screenplay about the World War II infantry legend Audie Murphy. Rescorla was a man of introspection as well as action, and some of his final soul-searching e-mails provide an eerie commentary on his final day.
Rescorla, after all, was once an infantryman himself, declared a “battlefield legend” in the 1992 bestseller “We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young.” Another photo of Rescorla — gaunt back then, unshaven, carrying his M-16 rifle with bayonet fixed — graced the book’s cover and became an enduring image of the Vietnam War.
The survivors of the 7th Cavalry still tell awestruck stories about Rescorla. Like the time he stumbled into a hooch full of enemy soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol in Bon Song. Oh, pardon me, he said, before firing a few rounds and racing away.
“Oh comma pardon me,” repeats Dennis Deal, who followed Rescorla that day in April 1966. “Like he had walked into a ladies’ tea party.”
Or the time a deranged private pulled a .45-caliber pistol on an officer while Rescorla was nearby, sharpening his bowie knife. “Rick just walked right between them and said: Put. Down. The. Gun,” recalls Bill Lund, who served with Rescorla in Vietnam. “And the guy did. Then Rick went back to his knife. He was flat out the bravest man any of us ever knew.”
Rescorla was also a passionate and complex man, a writer and a lawyer, as well as a blood-streaked warrior and six-figure security expert. At his home in suburban Morristown, N.J., he carved wooden ducks, frequented craft fairs, took playwriting classes. He wrote romantic poetry to his second wife, Susan, and renewed their vows after just one year of marriage. “He was a song-and-dance man,” she says. He was a weeper, too. He liked to quote Shakespeare and Tennyson and Byron — and Elvis and Burt Lancaster. He was a film buff, history buff, pottery buff — “pretty much any kind of buff you can be,” says his daughter, Kim. He liked to point his Lincoln Mark VIII in random directions and see where it would take him.
In his last days, Rescorla had been reading up on Zen Buddhism and the Stoics, contemplating the directions his own life had taken him. A few years ago, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread into his bones. His doctors had given him six months to live. But the cancer was in remission, and he couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant. In a Sept. 5 e-mail to his old friend Bill Shucart — once a medic in Vietnam, now the head of neurosurgery at a Boston hospital — he mused about kairos, a Greek word for a cosmically meaningful moment outside of linear time.
“I have accepted the fact that there will never be a kairos moment for me, just an uneventful Miltonian plow-the-fields discipline . . . a few more cups of mocha grande at Starbucks, each one losing a little bit more of its flavor,” he wrote.
But Rescorla’s moment was coming soon.
‘A Natural Number One Man’
This American story began in England.
Rescorla was born in Hayle, a seaport on the north coast of Cornwall. He was the only child of a single mom, although he didn’t know that as a boy. He thought he had a traditional family with married parents, a much older sister and an older brother. He only found out later that his parents were really his grandparents. His “sister” and “brother” were his mother and uncle. No matter. It was still a close family. He called his mother Sis until the day he died. He never did meet his father.
Rescorla’s neighbor and friend Mervyn Sullivan, a retired meter reader, remembers him as “a natural number one man,” a broad-shouldered, curly-haired man-child who wowed the girls and led the boys. Rescorla, known as Tammy then, was also a talented, hypercompetitive rugby player. Sullivan still sports a scar on his forehead where Rescorla kicked him 50 years ago while chasing a ball — and Rescorla was on his team that day.
“There was no need for that kick! No one was anywhere near us. We could’ve had a cup of coffee!” Sullivan recalls. “But that was Tammy, you know. Totally committed.”
Hayle was a working-class tin-mining town, and the Rescorlas were a working-class family. But Tammy wanted to see the world — and some action. He joined the British paratroopers as a teenager, then served as an intelligence officer in violence-torn Cyprus. He later joined Her Majesty’s colonial force in Northern Rhodesia as a commando. As Northern Rhodesia — now Zambia — began its transition to independence, Rescorla returned to London to serve in Scotland Yard’s elite “flying squad” of detectives. But the job and the paperwork bored him.
He was looking for a fight. In 1963, America seemed to be looking for one, too.
So Rescorla reported for basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., a mercenary at 24. “He was looking for bang-bang shoot-’em-up,” says his best friend, Hill, who met him at Fort Dix.
Rescorla and Hill, who was starting his second Army tour, were the only grunts at Fort Dix with combat experience. It was the same story when they began Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. — the so-called Benning School for Boys was a hotbed of fresh-faced college graduates. Again, Rescorla emerged as a swaggering leader, belting out Cornish songs in his lusty baritone when his classmates were stressed out and exhausted.
After graduating as a second lieutenant in April 1965, Rescorla was assigned to lead a platoon in Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry — once General Custer’s outfit at Little Big Horn, now the vanguard of a new helicopter-based “air-mobile” fighting concept designed for Southeast Asia. That fall, President Johnson shipped him to Vietnam.
“Most of us were in awe of Rick,” recalls Larry Froelich, an OCS classmate who is now the news editor at the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. “It came as no surprise when the stories began to trickle back from Vietnam about his exploits in the field.”
The Valley of Death
The Vietnam War entered a new realm of seriousness on Nov. 14, 1965, in the elephant grass and termite hills of the Ia Drang Valley. That remote swath of the Central Highlands became known as the Valley of Death. And as retired Army Gen. Harold G. Moore and war correspondent Joseph Galloway wrote in “We Were Soldiers,” their narrative of Ia Drang: “Rescorla, as usual, was in the middle of it all.” In “Baptism,” another Vietnam memoir, Larry Gwin dedicated an entire chapter of hagiography to Rescorla, describing him as a charming raconteur with a “crazed irreverent twinkle” at play, but also a ruthless killer with a “cold steely glint that could sear through you like the icy stare of death” in the bush.
“Rescorla was the best platoon leader I ever saw,” says Moore, who will be played by Mel Gibson in an upcoming movie based on “We Were Soldiers.” “What a unique man.”
American troops were encircled that first night at a landing zone they called X-Ray, and one company was virtually wiped out in a hellish firefight. The next day, Rescorla’s company was ordered to replace it on the perimeter at the foot of the Chu Pong mountain ridge. In a later letter to Moore and Galloway, Rescorla recalled that when he arrived — after a U.S. fighter jet had mistakenly dropped napalm on his men — he found corpses scattered everywhere from the night before, including an American with his hands still clenched around a North Vietnamese soldier’s throat.
“Are your men up for this? Do you feel they can hold?” asked Myron Diduryk, his commander.
“If they break through us, sir, you’ll be the first to know,” Rescorla replied.
That night, Rescorla risked sniper fire to study the terrain from the enemy viewpoint. He ordered his men to dig new foxholes 50 yards back, lay booby traps, reposition their machine guns and artillery. After midnight, he sang a slow Cornish mining tune: “Going Up Cambourne Hill Coming Down.” Lund remembers Rescorla stopping by his foxhole to reset his bayonet and critique his fields of fire, joking as if they were preparing to play paintball.
“What a command presence,” recalls Lund, who now runs a cell phone accessory business in Omaha. “We all thought we were going to die that night, and Rescorla gave us our courage back. I figured, if he’s walking around singing, the least I can do is stop trembling.”
The next morning, Bravo Company beat back four assaults, mowing down about 200 enemy soldiers while sustaining only a few injuries.
“A quietness settled over the field,” Rescorla wrote later. “We put more rounds into clumps of bodies nearest our holes, making sure. . . . Forty yards away a young North Vietnamese soldier popped up from behind a tree. He started his limping run back the way he had come. I fired two rounds. He crumpled. I chewed the line out for failure to fire quickly.”
It sounds heartless, but Rescorla had a nasty job. Minutes later, he saved several of his men by dropping a grenade on an enemy machine-gunner. Rescorla still had the gunner’s brain matter on his fatigues when his company was airlifted back to base.
“The stench of the dead would stay with me for years after the battle,” he wrote. “Below us the pockmarked earth was dotted with enemy dead. . . . A grenadier next to me threw up on my lap. He was, like many, a man who had fought bravely even though he had no stomach for the bloodletting.”
There was more to come. The next day, while Bravo Company rested, the rest of its battalion marched into a vicious ambush near a landing zone called Albany. Bravo was sent back to the rescue. “You know the battalion is in the [expletive],” Rescorla told his men. “We’ve been selected to jump into that [expletive] and pull them out.” Once again, Rescorla sprinted into a ragged perimeter — after a bone-rattling 10-foot jump from a Huey under fire — and immediately lifted the spirits of weary soldiers who thought they were done.
“My God, it was like Little Big Horn,” recalls Pat Payne, a reconnaissance platoon leader. “We were all cowering in the bottom of our foxholes, expecting to get overrun. Rescorla gave us courage to face the coming dawn. . . . He looked me in the eye and said, ‘When the sun comes up, we’re gonna kick some . . . .’ ”
Sure enough, the battalion fought its way out of Albany. Rescorla left the field with a morale-boosting souvenir: a battered French Army bugle that the North Vietnamese had once claimed as a trophy of war. It became a talisman for his entire division. But 305 Americans died in the Ia Drang, more than in the entire Persian Gulf War. The North Vietnamese death toll was 3,561. Even worse, leaders on each side concluded after the battle that they would be able to outlast the other side in a war of attrition.
Rescorla served one tour in Vietnam, earning a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and Bronze Stars for Valor and Meritorious Service, in addition to his $241.20-per-month salary.
He hated the way the Washington politicians were running things, with their kill ratios and no-fire zones and half-baked commitment to victory. He believed they were underestimating the enemy’s resolve, mistaking fervent nationalism for Soviet-style communism, piling up body bags in a losing cause.
He liked to say the higher-ups “saw things through the rosy red hue.”
“When I heard that Rick had quit the war, I felt in my heart that this was the wrong war for us,” Froelich recalls. “I never thought he’d walk away from a noble pursuit.”
In “Audie,” the film script Rescorla wrote a few years ago with his friend Jim Morris, Audie Murphy cannot escape his past or his pain. He is “walking wounded,” opening fire at his own alarm clock. He runs up gambling debts. He complains he’s got no civilian skills except shining shoes and robbing banks. “How do you like sitting on that pedestal?” he is asked.
“I coulda done without it,” he replies.
Rescorla did not want an Audie Murphy life after his war.
So he finished his Army tour back at Fort Benning, where he got his U.S. citizenship, then set off for the University of Oklahoma on the GI Bill in 1968. He hung around bookstores and coffee shops. He read up on American Indians and the Wild West. He studied creative writing. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature, then began law school.
“I’m sure everyone’s talking about Rick the Celtic warrior, Rick the hero, but he also had a deep intelligence,” says Fred McBee, a fellow student who later became a philosophy professor. “He’d lay Shakespeare on you. He’d quote Proust.”
He also trained officers for the Oklahoma National Guard and took another job training security guards in hand-to-hand combat. But although he remained in the Army Reserve for years, the pure-macho stage of his life was over. He married a special-needs teacher in 1972 and became a criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina. Elizabeth Rescorla, his first wife, once found his medals hidden in a round tin in their attic.
“He always said: ‘The war was part of my life. It’s not my life,’ ” she says.
Academia, however, was not his calling. “Can you imagine Rescorla sitting around with a damn pipe in his mouth?” Hill asks. The money wasn’t great, either. So Rescorla shifted into corporate security, first at the Bank Administration Institute, then at a Chicago bank. In 1985 he moved to New Jersey to be director of security for the Wall Street brokerage Dean Witter, which later merged with the investment bank Morgan Stanley. 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. During the Gulf War, Hill says, Rescorla concluded that the main threat at the World Trade Center was an underground truck bomb.
“We walked the garage together, and that was obviously the soft spot,” says Hill, who had been hired by Rescorla as a consultant. “He told Port Authority, but they said it was none of his business.”
In 1993, of course, a terrorist truck bomb in that very garage created pandemonium. Legend has it that Rescorla dropped his pants to get the mob’s attention, but that Rescorla legend is not quite true. He only jumped on a desk in the middle of the firm 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.
Meanwhile, he and Elizabeth were raising a family. Trevor was born in 1976, a brawny kid with his dad’s easygoing charm. Kim arrived in 1978, a thoughtful kid with her dad’s creative flair. Rescorla coached their soccer teams, shouted at their referees. He watched movies with them, especially westerns, especially John Wayne westerns. He edited Kim’s poetry in red pen and taught her how to sneak books under her covers after her mother demanded lights out. He boxed in the basement with Trevor.
“He’d cheat,” Trevor recalls with a grin. “He’d throw elbows. He’d shoulder me into the sofa. But I got him a few times, and he’d always be proud: ‘Hey, T knocked me down!’ ”
Today, both children are following their father’s paths. Trevor is a security guard, considering a career in law enforcement. Kim is a law student.
They want people to know that their dad was only human. He could be stubborn, impatient, impolitic. He didn’t have much of a filter between thought and speech. His first marriage dissolved in the mid-’90s, and there were fights over money. In Cyprus, he once backed a jeep into a restaurant after a night of drinking. He once told his National Guard bosses that they didn’t have nearly enough combat experience to evaluate him. He didn’t suffer fools at all.
But even his ex-wife wants people to know about his kindness. He used to shovel an old lady’s driveway after every snowstorm. He once drove home to fetch a sleeping bag for a homeless man. He bought a co-worker a ticket home to Jamaica after a death in her family.
When Rescorla returned to Hayle to visit his mother, he always called on a lonely blind man named Stanley Sullivan at the town’s nursing home. Sullivan loved his pint, and Rescorla always brought him cans of Guinness. Then they would sing Cornish oldies like “The White Rose” into the night, tears streaming down their faces.
“My God, I’m thinking of Tammy sitting on that bed, with his huge arm cuddling that frail man,” sobs Rescorla’s lifelong friend Mervyn Sullivan, no relation to Stanley.
Vietnam was always in the background, but Rescorla tried to keep it in the background. He told Kim that he was no longer the same man who used to kill 20 people before breakfast. He felt uneasy at reunions, complaining in an e-mail to Shucart about their “strange mixture of sentimentality, camaraderie, hucksterism and revisionist history.” He once wrote that men who died in Vietnam were “as valid as any American hero in any war this country has ever fought,” and he often visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But he could not relate to veterans who still greeted him with “Welcome home, brother,” who never got over their bitter homecomings.
“We didn’t get no parade,” a Vietnam vet tells Audie Murphy in Rescorla’s script.
“My whole life has been a parade,” Murphy replies. “Makes no difference.”
‘Our Time on Earth Is Brief’
One day in July 1998, Rescorla went jogging near his home, not far from the headquarters where George Washington spent two winters with his Continental Army. A divorced mother of three named Susan Greer was out walking her golden retriever.
“What are you doing?” she asked the passing jogger. “Why are you barefoot?”
Rescorla explained that he was working on a screenplay about Northern Rhodesia, where the people ran barefoot, and that he wanted to see what it felt like. It was the start of an abbreviated love story. In February 1999, they were married.
“I knew he was sick,” says Susan, weeping at the memory. “But I also knew that if I only had five minutes with him, it would be the best five minutes of my life.”
The Rescorlas moved into a Morristown subdivision called Windmill Pond, where they could sit on their patio and talk and watch the ducks float by. They would break into impromptu dances while running errands. She started fleeing girls-nights-out before dessert, because she hated to be without him for a whole evening. He wrote her a poem called “Soulmate just before dawn”:
Awakening in the dark
when the geese are silent on the pond
your steady breathing helps me
face the daybreak with a smile
Susan introduced him to herbal medicine, and the Chinese roots and grains and gelatin caps seemed to work wonders. He still took hormones that made him puffy — he was nearly 300 pounds, and he hated it — but he felt healthy, and his bone scans were clean.
Last May, on a trip to Cornwall, the Rescorlas decided to renew their vows outside an old Norman church. “We had taken such long journeys to find each other. We wanted to savor every moment,” Susan says. Rick had always liked churches for their architecture, but in his reading about religion he had come to believe in an ordered universe, in a higher power.
“The blossoming hawthorn tree nearby reminds us of the natural and orderly course of time,” he wrote for their new vows. “We are aware that our time on earth is brief: the footprints that we make in this sandy soil will one day be washed away by an eternal tide.”
Rescorla was thinking about those footprints in the months before he died. In April, when he was inducted into the OCS Hall of Fame, he philosophized over a few drinks with Hill, the best man at both of his weddings. “God, look at us,” he told Hill, a convert to Islam who had just undergone major heart surgery. “We should have died performing some great deed — go out in a blaze of glory, not end up with somebody spoon-feeding us and changing our nappies.”
Then there was that September kairos e-mail to Shucart, his medic-turned-surgeon pal.
“I’m enjoying life at 62,” he wrote. “Mulling over a lot of interesting stuff on Stoicism/Zen/Pantheism while trying to wrap the last few years of my security job with some degree of aplomb.” He quoted “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the T.S. Eliot poem about an aging man afraid to seize the day: “Do I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”
Rescorla confided to Shucart that he was frightened about retirement, nervous that his “most significant contribution” was long in the past. But for all his gloomy musings about mocha grande and the elusive kairos moment, he was engrossed in an “inspirational” biography of Sitting Bull: “Countering the pessimism is the artistic/literary impulse.” And he was “very happily married.” Maybe, he suggested, there was still some living to do.
“Carpe diem,” he wrote. “Let’s Corvette ourselves forward into that dark night, Butch and Sundance. The outlaw streak . . . will serve us well, prepare us for that moment of truth.”
It doesn’t sound real, now that Rescorla’s moment of truth has been captured in a snapshot. But Rescorla never sounded real. Morris says he often rewrote Rescorla’s dialogue for the “Audie” script. “I told him: ‘Look, it’s too epic. People don’t talk like that,’ ” he recalls. “I mean, Rescorla talked like that, but no one else does.”
This was Rescorla’s last e-mail to his daughter at law school, dated Sept. 10:
“Your mission . . . should you choose to accept it . . . dream, then scheme. . . . This country will be coming out of its slump about two years from now. It’s going to be a time for legal eagles of all kinds to leave their rocky promontories, spread their wings, and do what eagles tend to do. . . .”
One September Morning
On Sept. 11, Rick Rescorla’s alarm bounced him out of bed at 4:30 a.m.
Susan remembers him emerging from the bathroom, imitating Anthony Hopkins as the weirdo ventriloquist in “Magic,” the movie they had rented the night before.
Then he broke into a British ditty, but she can’t remember which one. She wishes she could.
He put on a gray shirt and a custom-made pinstripe suit.
She selected his matching red silk tie.
They kissed goodbye, and Rick was gone, off to the commuter train.
He called Susan at 8:15 a.m. from his corner office on the 44th floor.
“He told me he loved me. He said he didn’t need the movies — he had me,” she says.
Rescorla wasn’t even supposed to be at work that day. Susan’s daughter Alexandra was getting married the next week in a 10th-century Tuscan castle, and they had planned to go abroad early. But his deputy, Ihab Dana, wanted to visit Lebanon, so Rescorla delayed his own vacation. “It should’ve been me in there,” Dana says. “Rick was like a father to me.”
The first plane struck the north tower at 8:48 a.m. Moments later, Morgan Stanley employees began evacuating the 44th through 74th floors.
“Really, Rick made that decision in 1993,” Dana says. “He saved thousands of lives.”
After the truck bombing that year, Rescorla had warned Hill: Next time by air. He expected a cargo plane, possibly loaded with chemical or biological weapons. In any case, he insisted on marching his troops through evacuation drills every few months. The investment bankers and brokers would gripe, but Rescorla would respond with his Seven P’s: Proper prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance. He wanted to develop an automatic flight response at Morgan Stanley, to burn it into the company’s DNA.
According to Barbara Williams, a security guard who worked for him for 11 years, Rescorla was in his office when the first plane hit. He took a call from the 71st floor reporting the fireball in One World Trade Center, and he immediately ordered an evacuation of all 2,700 employees in Building Two, as well as 1,000 Morgan Stanley workers in Building Five across the plaza. They walked down two stairways, two abreast, just as they had practiced. Williams could see Rescorla on a security camera with his bullhorn, dealing with a bottleneck on the 44th-floor lobby, keeping people off the elevators.
“Calm, as always,” she says.
In his cell phone call to Hill, Rescorla said he had just spoken to a Port Authority official, who had told him to keep everyone at their stations. “I said: Everything above where that plane hit is gonna collapse,” Rescorla recounted to Hill. “The overweight will take the rest of the building with it. And Building One could take out Building Two.”
That, of course, is not exactly what ended up happening. But by the time the second hijacked jet rammed into the south tower at 9:07 a.m., many Morgan Stanley employees were already out of the building, and just about all of them were on their way out.
The rest of Rick Rescorla’s morning is shrouded in some mystery. The tower went dark. Fire raged. Windows shattered. Rescorla headed upstairs before moving down; he helped evacuate several people above the 50th floor. Stephan Newhouse, chairman of Morgan Stanley International, said at a memorial service in Hayle that Rescorla was spotted as high as the 72nd floor, then worked his way down, clearing floors as he went. He was telling people to stay calm, pace themselves, get off their cell phones, keep moving. At one point, he was so exhausted he had to sit for a few minutes, although he continued barking orders through his bullhorn. Morgan Stanley officials said he called headquarters shortly before the tower collapsed to say he was going back up to search for stragglers.
John Olson, a Morgan Stanley regional director, saw Rescorla reassuring colleagues in the 10th-floor stairwell. “Rick, you’ve got to get out, too,” Olson told him.
“As soon as I make sure everyone else is out,” Rescorla replied.
Morgan Stanley officials say Rescorla also told employees that “today is a day to be proud to be American” and that “tomorrow, the whole world will be talking about you.” They say he also sang “God Bless America” and Cornish folk tunes in the stairwells. Those reports could not be confirmed, although they don’t sound out of character. He liked to sing in a crisis.
But the documented truth is impressive enough. Morgan Stanley managing director Bob Sloss was the only employee who didn’t evacuate the 66th floor after the first plane hit, pausing to call his family and several underlings, even taking a call from a Bloomberg News reporter. Then the second plane hit, and his office walls cracked, and he felt the tower wagging like a dog’s tail. He clambered down to the 10th floor, and there was Rescorla, sweating through his suit in the heat, telling people they were almost out, making no move to leave himself.
“He was selfless in that situation, and that’s your ultimate character test,” Sloss says. “He was not rattled at all. He was putting the lives of his colleagues ahead of his own.”
Susan Rescorla watched the United Airlines jet carve through her husband’s tower, and she dissolved in 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.
Dying as He Lived
Susan watched the south tower implode in that unforgettable plume of smoke. She ran wailing into the street. She doesn’t know why she did that. One of her neighbors did the same thing — her husband had been at a meeting on the 100th floor.
The Rescorlas embarked on the grieving rituals that became so familiar to the world. The trips from hospital to hospital. The posters. The vigils. The desperate hope: If anyone could make it out of there, Rick could.
She kept calling his cell phone and hearing his message and disintegrating all over again.
Rick did not make it out. Neither did two of his security officers who were at his side. But only three other Morgan Stanley employees died when their building was obliterated.
The Rescorlas are still waiting for a body, or even a positive identification of some remains. Susan brought Rick’s hairbrush to the victim center on the Manhattan piers. Trevor gave a saliva sample. But Rick never wanted a fancy funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. He wanted to be cremated with no fanfare. He told Susan that if she wanted a memorial, he’d be okay with a plaque at a nearby bird sanctuary called the Raptors. It’ll go on the American eagle cage.
“My Rick has spread his wings and soared into eternity,” Susan keeps saying.
Life goes on. Dana is drawing up a new security plan for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, trying to imagine what his fallen boss would do. Jacqueline Landrau, a Morgan Stanley payroll clerk, gave birth to an eight-pound baby boy two days after she escaped from the 45th floor. The company is expected to announce widespread layoffs soon. Its $220 million lawsuit against the Port Authority for negligence before the 1993 bombing is scheduled to go to trial next year. It turns out that the agency’s own consultants had also warned that the underground garage offered “an enormous opportunity . . . for a terrorist to park an explosive-filled vehicle.” Alexandra went ahead with her wedding, not in Tuscany, but in Morristown.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Hayle are raising money for a statue of their native son. Gen. Moore is pushing for a posthumous Medal of Freedom. Robin Williams read a short tribute to Rescorla on that all-star telethon broadcast in 156 countries. Morris is shopping the Audie Murphy script around Hollywood. Next month, the veterans of Ia Drang will honor Rescorla at their annual reunion in Washington. And the big-budget “We Were Soldiers” film is coming out next year. Rescorla’s company was edited out of the script, but the bugle he recovered at Albany will make an appearance.
In the end, there was no great mystery to Rescorla’s actions on Sept. 11.
It would have been mysterious if he had reacted any differently. And everyone who knew Rescorla agrees that if he had survived the evacuation, he would have said he was just doing his job. That’s what Rescorla said after Vietnam, what Audie Murphy said after World War II.
“The man died as he lived,” says Galloway, the co-author of “We Were Soldiers,” who is now a consultant for Secretary of State Colin Powell. “What makes some people react like this, God only knows. In Rick’s case, you always expected it.”
The only real mystery is why Rescorla ultimately got his chance to Corvette forward into that dark night, why he never had to get spoon-fed in his nappies. It is not the kind of mystery that could ever be solved.
But to the friends he left behind, his death made a kind of cosmic sense on a day when the universe was out of order: The right man in the right place at the right time. He left in a blaze of glory. With no parade.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company