Running Toward The Danger, The Story of Rick Rescorla
Cyril Richard Rescorla, or as he was known to most everyone, Rick Rescorla knew all about danger. He lived with it, almost daily for most of his young adult life. A career military man with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and the Parachute Regiment (UK). Rescorla was born in Cornwall, United Kingdom while also taking up boxing, and jumping out of airplanes while singing old hymns to himself and anyone within earshot of him. One noticeable trait about Rick, which carried over to his adult years was his absolutely infectious good nature about him. He genuinely cared for the servicemen under his regiments, wherever he went.
In 1961 he would go on and enlist as a policeman with the Zambia Police Service, it was here he would meet one of the most important and influential figures in his life, Daniel J. Hill. Hill confronted Rescorla about entering the Vietnam War to defend the North Vietnamese from the communist block in the South, Laos and Cambodia. Both men were known voyeurs of imminent life threatening adventures, sheer risk takers….In 1963, Rescorla took that next step into the unknown, the United States. He lived in at the YMCA in Brooklyn and then enlisted with the United States Army at Fort Dix in Trenton, New Jersey. Upon graduating Rescorla was assigned as a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
In 1965, he would service under the legendary Lieutenant Colonel, Hal Moore, together they would find themselves in the battlefield of La Trang. This event would later become a film in 2002 called “We Were Soldiers”, which was an adaption from the Book written co-authored by Hal Moore “We were soldiers once…and young.” The battle was known to have many incidents of abject violence and morbid carnage which saw approximately 1,200 killed from the U.S side with 2,500 killed from the North Vietcong in just 4 days time (Nov 4–8, 1965). When the morale was low, Rescorla was known to sing military cheers and even Cornish hymns to the men laying low. Stories of Rescorla’s immense bravery was known to anyone who were around him. In a New Yorker article written by James B. Stewart in 2002 about Rescorla and Bravo company surviving the escape from La Trang:
“ Rescorla and Bravo company were evacuated by helicopter. The rest of the battalion marched to a nearby landing zone. On the way, they were ambushed, and Bravo company was again called in for relief. Only two helicopters made it through enemy fire. As the one carrying Rescorla descended, the pilot was wounded, and he started to lift up. Rescorla and his men jumped the remaining ten feet, bullets flying at them, and made it into the beleaguered camp. As Lieutenant Larry Gwin later recalled the scene, “I saw Rick Rescorla come swaggering into our lines with a smile on his face, an M-79 on his shoulder, his M-16 in one hand, saying, ‘Good, good, good! I hope they hit us with everything they got tonight — we’ll wipe them up.’ His spirit was catching. The enemy must have thought an entire battalion was coming to help us, because of all our screaming and yelling.”
After the war ended, Rescorla would receive numerous medals for bravery which included, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Rescorla was also known as a very “private” and “humble” man, as he never displayed these medals even at his home. Hardly ever discussing the war or his time there with anyone. He would later change his number so that no one from his days of the military would contact him, instead he chose to focus on the future. He would later reside in Oklahoma and study creative writing. This did not motivate him enough, so he left and moved to New Jersey to take up a job working with Dean Witter in the World Trade Center in 1985.
Dean Witter’s offices occupied twenty-two floors in the south tower, and several floors in a building nearby. Rescorla’s office was on the forty-fourth floor of the south tower. In 1990, Rick would end up calling his old friend, Dan Hill, who had trained in counter-terrorism. Rescorla wanted to strengthen the state of security, which was lacking in the WTC in general. Hill knew Rescorla’s mind, always thinking of the worst situations which could be fall him and then finalizing on how to neutralize the threat. Hill visited the basement levels of the North Tower which had no visible security, and Hill saw a load bearing column and stated that this would be where he would compromise the building if he were to commit an act of terrorism. “I’d drive a truck full of explosives in here, walk out, and light it off.” Rescorla went before the Port Authority, who owned the World Trade Center Towers, and produced a detailed security draft report he and Hill worked on, insisting on the need for more security in the parking garage. Their recommendations, which would have been expensive to implement, went ignored.
February 26, 1993….a Ryder truck parked next to a column in Level B in the South Tower exploded. Injuring over 1,000 people while killing 6. In the 2 months preceding the attack, Rescorla once again called upon Hill to lend his expertise on how the towers could be compromised again. Hill gave an even more dire premonition. Hill at this time converted to Islam, and was known to even go to down prayers. He beard was grown full down to the neckline. Hill began working as a consultant to Rescorla. He helped draft an analysis of the security measures at the Trade Center.
Hill also became increasingly aware of the local mosques frequented by radical imams, like Omar Abdel Rahman in New Jersey and Brooklyn, NY were becoming more adaptive to their technical prowess in regards to making bombs. Hill and Rescorla also theorized when the next attack would take place and what it would entail. Hill theorized that the radical groups involved would not use bombs this time, instead it would be hit from the top instead of the bottom….he implied planes with bombs in them could very well be the next likely option.
This prompted Rescorla to go before a board meeting with Dean Witter and exclaim that they should move out of the WTC and into a 3–4 story complex in New Jersey. He warned that Manhattan’s limited bridge and tunnel connections meant that it could be easily cut off, and transportation and communications disrupted.Witter’s lease with the Port Authority at the WTC didn’t expire til 2006, and they wouldn’t break off from the lease based on Rescorla’s, highly respected, assumptions.
In 1997 Dean Witter would end up merging with Morgan Stanley. Rescorla would end up training the employees of Dean Witter Reynolds (DWR) on the importance of fire drills and drills which would front as a terrorist incident. His exercises would become a monthly event, in which he trained employees to meet in the hallway between stairwells and go down the stairs, two by two, to the 44th floor. These drills would become known to some prolific managers of DWR, who resented the fact these sometimes would interfere with meetings.
It did not deter Rick from becoming adamant with these life saving drills, he had dealt with bureaucrats in the U.S military after all. His strict no nonsense approach would be a part of his drills, and when he would catch employees of DWR slagging off, he would reprimand them, even using a stopwatch to time the events. Rick would end up marrying a woman named Susan Greer in 1999, he finally found his peace he was searching after all these years.
Rescorla had married once previously. In the latter months of 1994, Rick had found out he was afflicted with cancer, he would be seen visiting his local doctors with his wife at his side while he would receive treatments. By 1998 the cancer spread into his bone marrow. This did not stop Rick from living his life, his way. While vacationing in New Mexico in 2000, he was contacted by managers from DWR, they were to let go 1,500 employees and security personnel had to be there to escort them off the property. Rick resented the fact that he was to act in this manner, as he always had felt fired employees should be dealt with a high degree of dignity, not to mention he knew most of these people on a personal level, some whom he knew for well over 25 years. Many would end up weeping as Rescorla would help them out of the premises.
This experience had left Rescorla, shaken as he was not equipped to deal with the more “emphatic” side of these people. The experience was so distraught, he talked with his wife, Susan, about retirement. Yet as they looked over their financial situation, along with a decreasing 401K, he stayed on with DWR for just one more year, the year was 2001. Susan relayed the fact that they were to have an extended vacation in Florence Italy, Susan’s daughter, Alexandra, was to be married there, the date…September 12th 2001.
4:30am September 11th 2001……Rick got up at his usual early hour. While showering, Susan laid out his clothes for him. His casual but professional attire was something of importance to Rick as he insisted that his security staff wear suits and ties every day, believing that proper attire induced respect and boosted morale, something he learned while he was in the military. He kissed his wife goodbye and left for work. At 8:45am, Susan was on the phone with Alexandra when she got another call…the caller yelled “Look at the television!!”…as she did, the screen showed the North Tower with a large gaping hole with billowing thick acrid smoke bellowing out from it. Meanwhile Dan Hill was at home, when he got a call from Rick Rescorla….
“Are you watching TV?” he asked. “What do you think?”
“Hard to tell. It could have been an accident, but I can’t see a commercial airliner getting that far off.”
“I’m evacuating right now,” Rescorla said.
“Pack a bag and get up here,” he said. “You can be my consultant again.”
While terrified people were told to go back to their desks in the South Tower. Rick Rescorla would advise the employees at DWR to leave the premises immediately. La Trang visited Rescorla that day, when his men were seen in a similar situation…low on morale and afraid to die, he would emphatically sing into his bullhorn as he was leading the employees out of the building.
Minutes later Rick called his wife Susan, she was beside herself. “Stop crying,” he told her. “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.” Rescorla then went back up the stairs to the office of Dean Witter Reynolds to make sure no one was left behind and that everyone was fully and safely evacuated. Dan Hill had called Susan to amplify that Rick would make it out safely…as he as finished saying this, Susan screamed into the phone
“The south tower is collapsing!”.
Hill had given Susan some small measure of hope, that Rick had probably made it out. As he hung up, Dan Hill knew Rick was dead, he had summarized that he would not have left until everyone was safely out. Philip Purcell, the chairman of Morgan Stanley had called Susan had notified her that after days of search and rescue operations, he assumed there would be no more survivors. the clothes Susan had laid out for Susan’s daughters wedding was still on the bed.
She still held out hope, even if the odds were stacked against her. However one of DWR employees, Bob Sloss, who was one of the very last employees to be evacuated had seen Rick on the tenth floor, just ten minutes before the South Tower collapsed. Sloss warned Rick to get out of the building, however Rick responded “I will as soon as I make sure everyone else is out,”, he then went back up into the stairwell back up to the 44th floor. It was the last time Rick was seen alive. Rescorla was declared dead three weeks after the attacks, his remains were never found. Yet his bravery was just beginning to be known to the world. Old Welch songs would be played in honor of his memory at his funeral, just like his songs which he played for his men during the battle of La Trang and helped evacuate to safety, and for the employees he helped evacuate from the South Tower…all 2,687 of them.
Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming, Can’t you see their spearpoints 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!”
(Men of Harlech)