Written by Michael Giorgino
On September 11, 2001, Rick Rescorla was on duty on the 44th floor of the World Trade Center, Tower Two. He was vice president for corporate security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and a jumbo jet had just plowed into the other tower.
As smoke rose from Tower One, someone from the Port Authority ordered him to keep his people at their desks. Rescorla replied, “Piss off. Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse and it’s going to take the whole building with it. I’m getting my people out of here!”
Rick Rescorla ordered an immediate evacuation, saving more than 2,700 people before the second plane plowed into Tower Two.
Rick Rescorla was born in Cornwall, England in 1939. After service in the British armed forces, he earned a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. Rescorla volunteered to fight in Vietnam. He fought with the 7th Cavalry Regiment (Airmobile) in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang. He was the gritty soldier pictured on the cover of “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young.” Co-author Lieutenant General Harold Moore described him as “the best platoon leader I ever saw.” Rescorla’s men called him “Hard Core” for his extraordinary courage in battle.
The History Channel has a chilling documentary about Rescorla called “The Man Who Predicted 911.” It tells how in 1992, Rescorla warned the Port Authority about the possibility of a truck bomb attack in the unguarded basement of the World Trade Center. He was ignored. When Islamic terrorists tried to bring down the Twin Towers with a truck bomb in 1993, Rescorla took charge of the evacuation and was the last man out.
Rick Rescorla then warned Morgan Stanley that the terrorists would return to finish the job — next time with aircraft! He said they should move their corporate headquarters to a safer location in New Jersey. The company’s lease in Manhattan did not end until 2006 and they failed to heed his warning.
Rescorla did the next best thing: He prepared for another attack. At his insistence, all employees, including senior executives, participated in full-blown, no-notice emergency evacuation drills every three months. High-powered stock brokers groused and complained about being yanked away from their million-dollar deals to trudge down forty stories. But it all paid off on 9/11.
At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 struck Tower One. Rescorla sprang into action and had most of Morgan Stanley’s 2700 employees and hundreds of visitors safely out of the building before United Airlines Flight 175 hit Tower Two at 9:02 a.m.
Rescorla loved his adopted county. As thousands marched down to safety, he sang “God Bless America” over a bullhorn and encouraged everyone to “be proud to be an American.” The last voice many heard as they descended from Tower Two was Rick singing his version of the song from the movie “Zulu”:
“Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready;
Stand and never yield!”
A Morgan Stanley director told Rescorla he had to get out, too. “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out,” Rescorla replied. In his last call to his wife Susan, Rick said, “Stop crying, I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.” Rick was last seen heading back up to rescue stragglers. His remains have never been recovered.
In the 18 years since 9/11, despite petitions and many other awards in the U.S. and United Kingdom, no president or congress has ever paid formal tribute to Rick’s heroism. Not until Thursday, when President Donald Trump invited Rick’s family to the White House and presented the Presidential Citizen’s Medal to Susan Rescorla on Rick’s behalf.
President Trump stated, “We can never erase the horrors of that day, we can never replace the lives that were lost. But on behalf of our entire nation, I pledge that we will forever and always remember this incredible American hero.”
God bless Rick Rescorla.
Mike Giorgino is a retired Navy Commander and a Gulf War veteran. He practices law in Coronado, California. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Lucas Sankey