First I heard the blaring commmands to exit the building. Then I heard the grumbles from around the office, “not now, not a fire drill.” Too much to do, too much hassle. As we left the office and filed into the stairway, I saw a lawyer confronting a building manager, “is this a drill? I have work to do…”
Talking to the younger members of our team, I asked if they new of any survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and if they’d ever head of Rick Rescorla? He saved almost his entire team and then sacficed his life searching for others to help.
Following the events of September 11, his name was in the news frequently. But I first heard his story in detail from my friend Joseph Galloway, whom I had gotten to know through our firm’s work on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Galloway is best known as Joey Galloway, the energetic and idealistic war correspondent portrayed by Barry Pepper in the film starring Mel Gibson, We Were Soldiers. The film dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965 and is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and Galloway, both of whom were at the battle and who developed a lifelong friendship forged in the firefights at Landing Zone X-Ray.
Sitting across from Galloway at Crofutt’s Bakery near Bayside, Texas we talked about future books and films that should be written and whose stories should be told. As smoke swirled around Galloway’s face, he leaned forward and said, “And here’s one…one about leadership, sacrifice.”
And then, the emotion in his face intensifies and his voice cracks as he whispers the name, “Rick Rescorla.”
Rescorla, who today is best known for the valiant execution of his duties during the attacks on the World Trade Center on that tragic day in 2001, served in Vietnam and was a in the Ia Drang Valley with Galloway. According to Historynet.com, Rescorla “Became a legend in the unit for his behavior in combat.” And years later his men would remember him with great emotion and would “have followed Rescorla in an assault upon the gates of Hell, for he did not order, he led.”
Young but battle-tested, Lt. Rescorla ordered his men to dig deeper, both literally and figuratively, as they prepared their trenches and their hearts and minds for the coming attack of literally thousands of North Vietnamese. And after they had dug their trenches, cleaned and checked their guns and ammo, set their perimeter defenses and drilled through the commands to come, and, then what else is there to do but wait?
“Rescorla sang,” said Galloway. “His voice piercing the night and calming the nerves of men who faced death at dawn.”
That’s leadership. Galloway recounted the events of 9/11, explaining how Rescorla had now become the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Wittter, who had 2,700 employees in their World Trade Center Offices. During the years leading up the attacks, would routinely run fire drills, marching the thousands of employees of Morgan Stanley up and down the darkened stairwells of the World Trade Center.
From the Rick Rescorla memorial website:
“…a jumbo jet had just plowed into the north tower. The voices of officialdom were crackling over the loudspeakers in the south tower, urging everyone to stay put: Please do not leave the building. This area is secure. Rescorla was ignoring them.
“The dumb sons of bitches told me not to evacuate,” he said during a quick call to his best friend, Dan Hill, who had indeed been watching the disaster unfolding on TV. “They said it’s just Building One. I told them I’m getting my people the [expletive] out of here.”
Keep moving, Rescorla commanded over his megaphone while Hill listened. Keep moving.
“Typical Rescorla,” Hill recalls. “Incredible under fire.”
Morgan Stanley lost only six of its 2,700 employees in the south tower on Sept. 11, an isolated miracle amid the carnage. And company officials say Rescorla deserves most of the credit. He drew up the evacuation plan. He hustled his colleagues to safety. And then he apparently went back into the inferno to search for stragglers. He was the last man out of the south tower after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and no one seems to doubt that he would’ve been again last month if the skyscraper hadn’t collapsed on him first. One of the company’s secretaries actually snapped a photo of Rescorla with his megaphone that day, a 62-year-old mountain of a man coolly sacrificing his life for others.
Probably didn’t make him very popular at Morgan Stanley. Until, of course, they made that final trip down the smoke filled stairwell.