The Man Who Predicted 9/11
On the anniversary of tragic events, like 9/11 today, I’m always struck, not by what caused them, but by how affected people react to fateful circumstance.
I’m rejuvenated by the greatness of the human spirit in people reacting to misfortune that transcend their own existence.
I’m astonished at their accomplishments; their heroism and the sacrifice of those who gave, as Abraham Lincoln put it, “the last full measure of devotion”.
Glued to the TV screen, I clearly remember Rudy Guilliani personally directing relief efforts with great poise and competence in New York City. His take-charge leadership on that day and those that followed had a calming effect on a shocked nation.
President George W. Bush, with bullhorn in hand, while standing on the smoldering rubble of the twin towers loudly said to rescuers, “I can hear you… the rest of the world hears you… and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon”.
It was his finest moment as President.
But the person I marvel at most is the man who predicted 9/11.
Rescorla’s whole life was purposed to be in the WTC South Tower at precisely 8:46 am on September 11th, 2001.
At that instant, in a tremendous fireball, the first airliner crashed into the North Tower.
Rescorla’s lifetime of cumulative experience saved the lives of 2,700 Morgan-Stanley employees…
but not his own.
Rescorla Prepares for 9/11
Rick Rescorla had a tortured soul.
He couldn’t sleep at night.
He was tormented all his life by recurring nightmares about soldiers lost under his command in Vietnam.
Ironically, the burly Rescorla himself was arguably one of the bravest foot soldiers who ever lived.
A British national, he came to the United States specifically to join the U.S. Army as a mercenary to fight the communists in southeast Asia.
Platoon leader Rescorla soon got that chance in the dreaded la Drang Valley. He, along with 400 other U.S. soldiers, unbeknownst to them, were dropped into a hornet’s nest containing a seasoned division – 4,000 strong – of North Vietnamese regulars.
They were quickly surrounded.
It became the first big battle, and one of the most storied, of the entire Vietnam War. It was later immortalized in a book and 2002 Mel Gibson movie, “We Were Soldiers“.
Rescorla’s name is never mentioned in either the book or movie. He probably wanted it that way. His picture, though, graces the book’s front cover.
One day Rescorla’s wife, Susan, years later found a boxful of medals hidden away in a trunk. She never knew he’d fought bravely in wars. She’d met him as corporate Vice President of Morgan-Stanley.
Susan thought making a prominent display case for his many medals would be a pleasant surprise for Rick. It wasn’t. He made her take them down, put them back and they were never spoke of again. All she ever knew was Rick had terrible nightmares.
Rick’s 7th Calvary bravery under fire, however, was legendary. When on the move, Rescorla took point for his own platoon.
One night they were surrounded by the enemy in la Drang and wave after wave of North Vietnamese regulars relentlessly stormed their tiny position and everyone thought they were breathing their last. Rescorla was unfazed. He loudly sang dirty Cornish ditties from childhood to keep up troop moral all night.
Years later, Rescorla sang those same bawdy tunes over a bullhorn in the South Tower while encouraging his Morgan-Stanley troops down the stairwells.
One la Drang incident came when his group was being airlifted out. There were two separated groups. One group had a long march to their extraction point. Rescorla was on the last helicopter of the 1st group already being airlifted away. The 2nd group came under heavy fire and a frantic call for help went out.
Rescorla’s helicopter turned around and went back in. The commander on the ground had already declared “broken arrow”. Under heavy mortar and machine gun fire, bullets flying all around, Rescorla calmly jumped 10 feet down off the hovering chopper holding an M79 grenade launcher in one hand and an M-16 in the other and draped with all the ammunition belts he could muster. Rick coolly swaggered over to the American foxholes.
That single act of bravery is credited with giving trapped soldiers in an overrun position the courage to fight on.
Rescorla won silver and bronze stars, and other medals in battles in Vietnam and other wars.
Later, haunted by the death of soldiers he commanded, Rescorla quit the army, went to college and became a teacher. He later joined Dean Witter as chief of security and, after a merger, rose to VP of corporate security at Morgan-Stanley at the World Trade Center.
One Hero’s 9/11 Story
Rescorla was a thorn in the side of the Port Authority who managed the WTC.
After the 1993 WTC parking garage terrorist attack, which he had warned them about its vulnerability, Rescorla fought for and got improved stairwell lighting and other building security improvements.
The Port Authority didn’t like him. They had to pay for it all.
Rick brought in an informal, eclectic group of security and non-security friends and associates for out-of-the-box discussions about building security.
One of them, an artist, brought in a flight simulator program and demonstrated how easy it would be to fly an airplane into the twin towers.
Rescorla’s warnings about that possibility, too, fell on deaf Port Authority ears. He recommended to the board of directors that Morgan-Stanley move out of the WTC.
In his most fateful action of all, Rick asked for and got permission to devise and practice regular full building evacuations for all Morgan-Stanley employees every 3 months. They were the WTC’s largest tenant. They occupied 22 floors of the South Tower.
It was a long, long way down.
Rescorla’s nightmare-driven obsession to protect his charges and the strength of his personality were all that made that unpopular corporate policy possible.
The Port Authority thought he was crazy.
Morgan-Stanley’s 2,700 employees in the South Tower were well practiced for that fateful day.
When the North Tower was struck, Rescorla was first to recognize it as a terrorist attack. He’d warned about it before. He called his life-long friend and war buddy Dan Hill and told him he was ordering an evacuation and asked Hill to call his wife to tell her he was OK.
When people began streaming out of the South Tower into the streets, the Port Authority feared they would interfere with rescue efforts at the North Tower. So, over the South Tower’s building P.A. they told everyone to go back to their offices.
It is reported that an angry Rescorla called the Port Authority telling them he had no intention of following their orders and recommended they perform sex acts on themselves that were quite impossible. All his employees were ordered to continue the evacuation.
It saved their lives.
At 9:03 am, 17 minutes after the first plane hit the North Tower, the second struck Rescorla’s South Tower.
He began singing the same bawdy English songs over his bullhorn like he’d done at la Drang. He directed everyone to continue down the stairs, just like they’d practiced many times before.
After what must have seemed like an eternity, they finally made it to the building lobby. Rescorla sang dirty ditties the whole way down.
Determined to make sure no one was left behind, Rescorla and some of his security team went back up to make a quick sweep for stragglers.
He called Dan Hill and told him he was going back up. Dan was on the phone with Rick’s hysterical wife when the South Tower collapsed. To calm her, Dan said that if anyone could survive, it was Rick. After he hung up he thought to himself, “Ricks dead”.
The South Tower was the first building to fall at 9:59 am. Rescorla and his brave security companions were among only six Morgan-Stanley employees lost.
Some people were brought into this world for a higher purpose. Rescorla’s was to be in the South Tower of the World Trade Center for an hour and thirteen minutes on 9/11/2001.
Rick Rescorla, a remarkable man, is who I think about on the anniversary of 9/11, not the lousy scum who stole 2,996 mortal lives for a twisted cause.
Rescorla saved 2,700!!
Morgan-Stanley’s thousands of employees were in the highest 22 floors of the South Tower that could be evacuated. The 2nd plane struck just above their corporate headquarters. All 1,355 above them had no means of escape and died that terrible day. Morgan employees were the last out.
Rescorla’s commanding military instinct compelled Morgan employees continue down the stairwells when ordered back to their offices by the Port Authority. It was the difference between life and death. They barely made it out before the South Tower fell. If they had waited 17 more minutes, as ordered, we’d be talking about 5,700 dead instead of 3,000.
2,996 American heroes tragically lost their lives that horrible day. Each gave their “last full measure of devotion” in their own way.
Let us never forget the high cost and heavy burden of a free society.
Rescorla is a tragic loss of a great American, but we can take solace.
Rick Rescorla doesn’t have nightmares anymore. R.I.P.