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Rick Rescorla Rescued Over 2,000 Employees On 9/11

Events | October 4, 2019

One of the World Trade Center's twin towers collapses after it was struck by a commercial airliner in a terrorist attack September 11, 2001 in New York City. Source: (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Everyone remembers the 343 firefighters who died after they rushed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 to rescue the people trapped in the burning buildings after the terrorist attack that day. While we should never forget the sacrifices that these brave first responders made, we should also recognize that others played a key role in saving lives that fateful day. One of them was Rick Rescorla, the head of security for Morgan Stanley, which was located in the South Tower. Thanks to Rescorla's action, more than 2,000 people were saved from the Towers. Sadly, Rescorla was not one of them. Let's remember the life and heroic death of this man. 

Rick Rescorla. Source: (morristowngreen.com)

Rick Rescorla’s Backstory

As a child growing up in England, Rick Rescorla idolized American soldiers. In 1957, when he was 17, he joined the British military, where he was trained as a paratrooper and worked in intelligence. For his service with the British military, he earned several accolades, including the General Service Medal with clasp Cyprus. After a three-year stint with the British military, Rescorla joined the Northern Rhodesia Police Force as an investigator. During his three years in that country, now known as Zambia, Rescorla had two experiences that shaped his future. First, he developed a seething hatred for communism. Second, he became friends with a U.S. soldier, Daniel Hill, who encouraged him to serve in Vietnam as a member of the United States military. Remember that name. It'll come up later.

Rescorla, during his service in Vietnam. Source: (military.com)

An American Soldier

Rick Rescorla moved to the United States in 1963 and set plans in motion to join the U.S. military. He completed basic training, then officers’ school and airborne training. With his training complete, Rescorla was sent to Vietnam as a platoon leader. There, Rescorla’s bravery earned him a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. A photograph of Rescorla in action appeared on the cover of the 1992 boo, We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young, which served as the basis for the Mel Gibson movie We Were Soldiers

Rescorla took a job as head of security at Morgan Stanley, the biggest tenant at the World Trade Center. Source: (thoughtco.com)

Earning Degrees

Once Rescorla returned from his service in Vietnam, he parlayed his benefits from the GI Bill into a bachelor's degree in creative writing, a master's degree in English, and a law degree. He taught criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, but his career as an educator was short-lived. He soon left to work in corporate security at the World Trade Center in New York City. 

Rescorla's worry about a possible attack came true on 1993 when the first bombing at the Twin Towers took place. Source: (britannica.com)

Concerned about Terrorism

The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland was an eye-opener for Rick Rescorla. If terrorists could plant bombs on planes, he feared they could do the same to high-profile buildings like the World Trade Center. He invited the U.S. soldier he met in Rhodesia, Daniel Hill, to visit him at the World Trade Center to assess its vulnerability to terrorism. Hill had a background in counterterrorism, and during his walk-through of the World Trade Center with Rescorla, he attempted to gain to access the basement of the facility. He succeeded without being stopped or questioned. Hill also noted that the load-bearing columns were exposed and vulnerable to a potential car bomb. Rescorla submitted a report to the Port Authority and suggested steps to secure the basement of the building, but his recommendations were largely ignored---that is, until 1993, when terrorists drove a truck packed with explosives into the parking garage of the North Tower and detonated it. 

As head of security at Morgan Stanley, Rescorla practiced regular evacuation drills. Source: (bbc.com)

Still Wary of Terrorism

The 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center just reinforced to Rescorla that the buildings were a target for terrorism. He suggested that Morgan Stanley, the firm he worked for as head of security, leave their offices in the World Trade Center and find a new home, but his bosses wouldn't have it. Instead, Rescorla implemented emergency evacuation drills and insisted that all Morgan Stanley employees practice the drills every three months. The employees became well-versed in descending the stairwells in a fast and orderly manner. 

Because of Rescorla's drills, employees knew how to escape when the September 11 attacks took place. Source: (latimes.com)

The September 11 Attack

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the first hijacked airplane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The Port Authority instructed workers over the PA system to remain at their desks, but Rescorla, who had heard the explosion and could see the flames of the North Tower, ignored the Port Authority's announcement and began to evacuate Morgan Stanley employees from their offices, directing them down the stairwell. He continued assisting them even after the second plane struck the building he was in. Through it all, he reassured the scared workers and kept them from panicking. When he found a spare moment to call his wife, 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."

There is now a memorial to Rick Rescorla at the National Infantry Museum. Source: (nationalinfantrymuseum.org)

Rescorla's Last Moments

Rick Rescorla evacuated the majority of Morgan Stanley's 2,687 employees, but he went back into the building to make sure that no one was left behind in the offices. A colleague he encountered inside the building insisted that they needed to leave together, but Rescorla responded that he would go as soon as he was certain everyone had been evacuated. Rick Rescorla was last seen alive on the 10th floor of the building as he was climbing the stairs toward the 44th floor. Moments later, the South Tower collapsed. Although Rescorla's body was never recovered, he was declared dead, a victim of the terrorists, but thanks to his foresight and planning, more than 2,000 people survived the attack on the Twin Towers

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.