The Citizen Solider

Few men epitomize the ethos of the citizen soldier quite like Rick Rescorla. His story is nearly unbelievable - although born in England, he fought in Vietnam for the US Army, emigrated and was educated in his adopted country, fought and survived cancer. He died a hero's death on September 11th, 2001, running up the staircase of World Trade Center Tower 2, in the service of others.

When I think of 9/11, and all of the incredible stories of tragedy and heroism, I think most of quiet competence of Rick Rescorla, saving lives in the service of his country as he did 36 years earlier on foreign soil.

Born in England, Rick came to the United States out of a sheer desire to fight against Communism. He had first-hand experience fighting in Cyprus and Rhodesia from 1957-1963 with the British military, and came to New York City as an immigrant with the counsel of his friend Dan Hill, an American who served with him overseas. Fair or unfair, while many of our countrymen burned draft cards and fleed to Canada to avoid combat service, Rescorla abandoned his home country and pledged allegiance to the United States and went to war.

In the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, he led a platoon of American infantry against the Viet Cong in 48 hours of pure hell. A summary of his actions reads like military legend. Leading a charge, he was seen rallying his troops with an M-16 rifle in one hand and a M79 grenade launcher in the other. He singlehandedly destroyed an enemy machine gun nest with a hand grenade. At the end of the battle, he led a Joshua Chamberlain-style bayonet charge to erase the remnants of an enemy force. According to Hal Moore, author of We Were Soldiers Once, And Young, Rescorla was "the greatest platoon commander I have ever seen."

With his hard-earned citizenship and the GI Bill, Rescorla then earned a law degree from the
University of Oklahoma, and later taught Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina. He retired from the United States Army in 1990 at the rank of Colonel, and took a job in corporate security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, on Wall Street, in New York City.

A decade ticked by. In 2000, Rescorla learned that Hal Moore's account of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley was being made into a Mel Gibson movie. Uncomfortable with the portrayal of he and other combat survivors as heroes, Rescorla told his wife curtly "the real heroes are dead."

Rescorla was on duty on September 11th. At 8:46 AM when the first airplane crashed into Tower 1, he sprung into action, exactly as he had 36 years prior. Ignoring orders from the Port Authority to stand fast, Rescorla took a bullhorn in hand and began rapidly moving across 22 separate floors evacuating the 2,687 Morgan Stanley employees in Tower 2 and 5.

He was last seen by his collegue Bob Sloss, on the 10th floor while heading back up the stairs. Sloss urged him to get to safety himself. "I will as soon as everyone else is out," he replied.

Because of his efforts, all but 13 Morgan Stanley employees survived the disaster. A soldier until the end, Rescorla refused to leave a man behind.