For individuals who survived the World Trade Center’s destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, or who witnessed the horror in person or on television, the historic event may still seem merely days in the past instead of 21 years behind us. The chill and emotion of the inconceivable unfolding is still palpable.
And for the 2,700 Morgan Stanley survivors of that dreadful day, another sentiment was and still is foremost in the minds of many people: gratitude. Two-plus decades ago, the company’s head of corporate security, Rick Rescorla, saved them, but he did not save himself.
American Veterans Center focuses on heroism demonstrated on 9/11 and stated in a “Tribute” about Rick Rescorla: “Inside those buildings, selfless acts of heroism were displayed that were so profound that if they had been witnessed on a field of battle, they would have merited all the glory given to those who received the medal of honor.”
Born in England, Rescorla first joined the British Army in 1956 at age 16 to fight communists in Cyprus and Rhodesia and then joined the U.S. Army to fight communism in Vietnam. It was there, as a 7th Cavalry platoon leader, that Rescorla first showed his mettle, remaining cool under fire during the strenuous Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the first major clash between the United States Army and the People's Army of Vietnam in November, 1965. Rescorla also gained notoriety during the fighting due to his booming baritone singing of the Cornish songs of his childhood. A photo of Rescorla was used for the cover of "We Were Soldiers Once … and Young: Ia Drang—the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam," a book by Hal Moore and Joseph L. Galloway that later became a film starring Mel Gibson. For his valor in Vietnam, Rescorla received a Purple Heart and Silver Star.
After Vietnam, as head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley during the 1993 truck bomb incident at the World Trade Center, Rescorla prepared for another attack and regularly trained employees to descend 22 floors and evacuate the building. In March 2020, Bill Van Scoyoc, one of the Morgan Stanley employees and a 9/11 survivor, spoke to the American Veterans Center. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was overseeing a training class of almost 300 on the 61st floor of Tower 2 (South Tower). He knew Rescorla and expressed: “We would have safety and fire drills on a regular basis, and Rick would run those. I could sense his passion for making sure everyone was secure. Someone who was inspiring … who you would want to look up to and have confidence in. I didn’t find out about his valor and courage in Vietnam until afterwards.”
After Tower 1 (North Tower) was hit, Scovoc was taking the training group down the stairwell when Tower 2 (South Tower) was hit. “As I went down, I could hear Rick and his authoritative voice instructing people to exit the building … he was singing and doing whatever he could to help people feel better during the chaos that ensued.”
Emotional, even almost 20 years after the tragedy, Van Scoyoc expressed his thoughts on the indelible impression Rescorla left on not only the lives of those individuals he saved, but as a true, modern day hero.
Rescorla’s wife, Susan, wrote the 2011 indie book, “Touched By A Hero - A 9/11 Widow's Journal of Love & Legacy." The book not only explored her personal tragedy, but points out her husband’s patriotism in an effort to inspire others to find the hero within themselves. In a 2019 interview for Montclair State University, she shared that survivors told her that her husband said to them as he was ferrying them to safety, “Today is a day to be proud to be an American and tomorrow the world will be looking at you.” In the midst of the singing and encouraging and steady determination to get as many people out of the building as possible, Rescorla had the presence of mind to call his wife, whom he imagined would be learning through radio or television about the drama unfolding in New York’s financial district. He explained to her, “I have to get them out. If something happens to me, I want you to know you made my life.” Through tears, she said in the interview that after she hung up with Rick, “the building came down.”
Another book is a biography of Rescorla’s life, with his 9/11 efforts as the centerpiece. “Heart of a Soldier: a Story of Love, Heroism, and September 11th,” by James B. Stewart, features the same black-and-white image of Rescorla in action as a Vietnam soldier that is on the cover of “We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." The prologue begins with a mention of Susan and how she first met Rescorla. And then the story follows Rescorla’s “heart,” from his military experiences and his dedication to fellow soldiers, to the ultimate expression of love and serving fellow man.
Posthumously, Rescorla has been distinguished with many awards, including the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2019. And, in 2006, a monument was dedicated to Rescorla at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia.
The person who introduced Susan Rescorla when she spoke at Montclair State University was Paul Cell, chief of police of the college. About Rescorla, he stated poignantly: “Heroes don’t always wear capes. They don’t always wear badges. Heroes don’t wear anything specific. It’s in your heart.”