Cyril Richard ‘Rick’ Rescorla - 9/11 hero

Rick Rescorla

Cyril Richard ‘Rick’ Rescorla BA MA LLB holder of ‘The White Cross of Cornwall’, US Silver Star, US Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, US Purple Heart, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, British General Service Medal ‘Hard Core’ ‘The Cornish Hawk’ - saved 2,687 lives on September 11, 2001 whilst singing Cornish songs, academic, Cornish patriot, hero supreme, the man who predicted 9/11.

Rick Rescorla was born on 27th May, 1939 in Hayle in Cornwall. He grew up there with his grandparents and his mother, who worked as a housekeeper and companion to the elderly. In 1943, his hometown of Hayle served as headquarters for the 175th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 29th Infantry Division, largely composed of American soldiers from Maryland and Virginia preparing for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Young Rick idolized the American soldiers and wanted to become a soldier because of them.

Rescorla was a natural sportsman, setting a school record in the shot put, and was an avid boxer. When a professional boxing match was scheduled between a British boxer and an American heavyweight contender named Tami Mauriello, his friends backed the Cornishman. Rescorla stated, ‘I'm for Tammy’ [sic] and after Mauriello won the fight everyone in Hayle knew him as ‘Tammy’.

Rescorla left Hayle in 1956 to join the British Army. He enlisted in 1957, training as a paratrooper with The Parachute Regiment and then serving with an intelligence unit in Cyprus during the EOKA Cypriot insurgency from 1957 to 1960. He then served as a paramilitary police inspector in the Northern Rhodesia Police (now the Zambia Police Service) from 1960 to 1963.

It was during the latter post that he met and forged a ‘life-altering friendship’ with American soldier Daniel J. Hill, who inspired Rescorla to join the U.S. Army and fight in Vietnam. On returning to London and civilian life, he joined the Metropolitan Police Service.

His tenure at the Met was short-lived and he soon resigned and moved to the United States. He lived at a YMCA hostel in Brooklyn until he was able to enlist in the Army. ‘Rick’, as he would thereafter be known, enlisted in the United States Army in 1963 and after basic training at Fort Dix, he attended Officer Candidate School and airborne training at Fort Benning. Upon graduating Rescorla was assigned as a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

Rescorla was sent to Vietnam, where he served under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore. The two participated in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, which Moore would later describe in a 1992 book he co-authored We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, (from which the 2002 Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers would be adapted); Rescorla is the soldier pictured on the book jacket cover. Co-author Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore described him as ‘the best platoon leader I ever saw’. Rescorla's men nicknamed him ‘Hard Core’ for his bravery in battle and revered him for his good humour and compassion towards his men. He is also mentioned in the book Baptism by Larry Gwin who also fought at Ia Drang. The fourteenth chapter of the book Rescorla's Game describes him as the ‘Cornish Hawk’. Despite this tough image, according to his second wife and widow Susan Rescorla in her book, Touched by a Hero, music was ‘so central’ to Rick's life that he sang to his troops in Vietnam to calm them – something he would later employ during 9/11.

Rescorla's Vietnam honours included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Rescorla's British honours included the General Service Medal with clasp Cyprus.

After service in Vietnam, Rescorla returned to the US, and used his military benefits to study creative writing at the University, eventually earning a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Master of Arts degree in English and a law degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. He then moved to South Carolina, where he taught criminal justice at the University of South Carolina for three years and published a textbook on the subject.

Rescorla left teaching for higher-paying jobs in corporate security, joining Dean Witter Reynolds at their offices at the World Trade Centre in New York City in 1985, and living in New Jersey.

Rick was worried about the safety of New York City's World Trade Centre. Ever since the 1993 terrorist attack, when a bomb blew-up in the building's basement, he was convinced that it would happen again.

During the 1993 attack, Rescorla was upset that the building evacuation had gone so poorly. He vowed that such a muddled exodus would never happen again. Among the first to understand that a new kind of terrorism was targeting innocent office workers, he became the director of security for Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley in 1997.

Believing the Trade Centre (where Morgan Stanley was headquartered) was a particularly vulnerable terrorist target, Rescorla recommended that his company find different space. Because of lease obligations, however, that alternative was not possible. Instead, Rick developed an emergency evacuation plan which he required the Morgan Stanley employees to practice over and over.

Rescorla could just not get out of his head that the Trade Center would be attacked again. When it happened, on September 11, he and his colleagues were ready.

When the Port Authority issued an announcement, via its PA system, that everyone in the South Tower of the World Trade Centre should remain calm and stay at their desks, Rescorla couldn't believe his ears. He immediately began an evacuation process.

With bullhorn in hand, he ordered the Morgan Stanley employees to evacuate the building. Before the second plane struck the South Tower, his colleagues were on their way down the stairs. Thousands of people—nearly 2700 to be precise— owe their lives to Rick Rescorla, and many are vocal about that fact.

Trying to keep people calm, under such incredibly stressful circumstances, Rescorla began singing inspirational songs. One, among them, was from his home. Based on the Men of Harlech, he sang these words:

Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming,
Can’t you see their spear points gleaming?
See their warriors’ pennants streaming,
To this battlefield.
Men of Cornwall stand ye steady,
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready
Stand and never yield!

Because of Rick Rescorla's foresight and belief that he knew what was right, nearly every Morgan Stanley employee made it safely out of the South Tower before it collapsed.

Incredibly fearless and courageous, Rescorla entered the South Tower of the World Trade Center to be sure that all of the Morgan Stanley employees had safely left the building. He believed there were a few who still needed help. A soldier to the end, he would never leave anyone behind, even if it meant sacrificing his own life.

Rescorla knew he was facing difficult odds when he reentered the Tower. He was last seen near the 10th floor, on his way up to help the last of his colleagues leave the building.

Shortly before the South Tower collapsed, Rick called his wife Susan. He told her: '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.'

Something did happen to him. When the South Tower collapsed, Rick was still in the building. His body was never found.

All but thirteen Morgan Stanley employees had safely exited the building.

Rick is honoured in the United States and in Cornwall. Sadly, the British Government have ignored this Cornish hero as they have ignored so many others.

This article has been kindly provided by Kernow Matters to Us and is the ninth in a series on Famous Folk of Kernow (Cornwall).