On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed unprecedented terror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were struck in a coordinated terrorist attack. Amidst this chaos and tragedy, stories of heroism and sacrifice emerged, with one of the most poignant being that of Rick Rescorla, a Vietnam War veteran and security officer at Morgan Stanley.
Born in Cornwall, England, in 1939, Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla’s journey to America was marked by his military service. He served as a paratrooper in the British Army and later in Northern Rhodesia as a police inspector. His quest for more action led him to the United States, where he enlisted in the Army in 1963. Rescorla’s courage and leadership shone during the Battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam, where he famously sang Cornish and Welsh battle hymns to keep his men’s spirits high. His actions in Vietnam were not just acts of valor but also a testament to his character – a leader who led from the front and took care of his men.
After Vietnam, Rescorla’s life took a different turn. He earned a law degree, taught criminal justice, and eventually moved into corporate security. In the mid-1980s, he joined Dean Witter Reynolds, which later merged with Morgan Stanley, occupying floors in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Rescorla’s military background instilled in him a sense of vigilance, which proved crucial in the years leading up to 9/11. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he foresaw the possibility of an aerial attack on the towers. In response, he implemented rigorous evacuation drills for Morgan Stanley employees, training them to evacuate calmly and efficiently.
On the morning of 9/11, despite being scheduled for a holiday, Rescorla was in his office. When the North Tower was hit, he immediately realized the gravity of the situation and began evacuating Morgan Stanley employees, defying the building’s announcement to stay put. Using a megaphone, he directed and calmed employees, even singing to ease their nerves as they evacuated. His actions that day were not just a reflection of his dedication but also of his foresight and preparedness.
Rick’s final moments were in keeping with his life’s theme of selfless service. After ensuring the safe evacuation of over 2,500 employees, he re-entered the building to rescue more, ultimately sacrificing his life when the South Tower collapsed. His bravery and leadership saved 2,687 lives, with only 13 Morgan Stanley employees not making it out.
In recognition of his extraordinary heroism, Rick Rescorla was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Donald Trump in 2019. This honor, the second-highest civilian award in the United States, was a fitting tribute to a man who exemplified courage, selflessness, and dedication to his fellow human beings.
Rick Rescorla’s legacy extends beyond his heroic acts on 9/11. He remains a symbol of bravery and self-sacrifice, inspiring not only those who knew him but also generations to come. His story is a reminder of the indomitable human spirit and the extraordinary feats of heroism that ordinary people are capable of in extraordinary circumstances.