Rick Rescorla - Security Manager and Hero Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Rick Rescorla - Security Manager and Hero

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On Tuesday 11 September, 2001, Rick Rescorla reported for duty. It was just another day for the head of security at the New York offices of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter inc.

Rick was in the twilight of his career. A former soldier, he had seen action in Vietnam and was decorated for bravery at the battle of Ia Drang. Rick was remembered particularly for his comradeship and compassion towards the men in his platoon and earned the nicknames 'Hard Core' and the 'Cornish Hawk'.

Indeed, Rick was not born an American, but a Cornishman. Born Cyril Richard Rescorla in Hayle, Cornwall in 1939, he had served in the British Army in Cyprus, with the police in Northern Rhodesia1 and also in the Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad, before enlisting with the US Army in 1963.

In 2001, Rick's duty of care to his charges was undiminished. His comrades now wore pinstripes and the theatre of operations was New York's financial district. Indeed, Rick's foxhole couldn't have been more conspicuous. It was one of the world's most prominent landmarks - the twin towers of New York's World Trade Centre.

A New Threat

Rick had long retired from the regular army when he took the job with what was then Dean Witter Securities in 1985. He was still an army reservist and his combat instincts had not left him. One of his early actions was to assess the threat he was under. To help him he picked up the phone and called Dan Hill.

Dan was a lifelong army buddy, another war hero with many commendations for bravery. He had first met Rick in the Congo and had served with him in Vietnam. Dan later served in Afghanistan, fighting with the Mujahadeen against the Soviet occupation. He had also converted to Islam.

Dan's special knowledge of Islamic terrorist methods was a telling factor as he and Rick assessed the security of the World Trade Centre. Their 1990 report identified a weak point susceptible to bombing - structural columns in the underground car park.

Their report was presented to the New York Port Authority, who managed the building. An official dismissed it.

In 1993, terrorists exploded a truck bomb in the basement, exactly as Rick and Dan had predicted. The building stood firm and Rick successfully evacuated the people. Indeed, he was the last to leave.

But Rick knew that they would come again.

He and Dan prepared another report, suggesting that the next attack would almost certainly come from the air. Again, the report was rejected.

Rick insisted on regular, unannounced evacuation drills. His colleagues occupied offices between the 44th and 74th floors of the southern tower, WTC2, and they were required to practise evacuation via the stairs, two abreast. The drills were enforced with military precision. Morgan Stanley employees were the only ones in the building who were performing them. Everyone, right up to the company president, was required to take part.

Cometh the Hour

So on this particular September morning, Rick Rescorla was at his desk on the 44th floor. He hadn't wanted to be there that day; his daughter was due to be married the following week in Tuscany, and Rick had wanted the week off. His deputy had got in first and booked a vacation in Lebanon.

His colleagues were also arriving for duty. Morgan Stanley employed 2,800 in the southern tower, and 1,000 in a nearby building. It is estimated that 2,700 were in WTC2 when a commercial airliner struck its sister tower at 8:46am, and exploded in a ball of flame.

Initially Rick thought it was a terrible accident. He rang Dan, who wasn't so sure - the airliner was a long way off course. Rick decided to evacuate the buildings. The Port Authority instructed him not to evacuate, and Rick told them where to go. He picked up his megaphone and left to shepherd his men safely out of danger. It was not a straightforward task.

It is difficult to imagine the mix of stunned disbelief, confusion and blind panic which gripped the inhabitants of WTC2 as their sister tower burned. With his two fellow security officers, Rick cajoled them into some sort of exodus using any improvised techniques he could. These reportedly included singing 'Men of Harlech' over his megaphone, rendered as 'Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming...'. Further unconfirmed reports describe him as dropping his trousers to gain attention above the panic.

And then the second airliner came, plunging into WTC2 a few floors above them.

Eyewitness reports tell of Rick moving from floor to floor, even as high as the 72nd floor in his efforts to save his colleagues, as well as other tenants of WTC2. The final report is from a senior manager who had lingered to make phone calls and who recalls seeing Rick in the tenth floor stairwell, refusing to leave until everyone was accounted for. Moments later, WTC2 was the first tower to collapse.

The remains of Rick and his two security officers were never found. Neither were those of four further Morgan Stanley employees, but over 2,700 escaped.

The Aftermath

There were many heroes. It takes a different breed of human to enter a burning building to save his fellow men, and 343 New York firefighters perished on that day.

Rick's memorial is in Hayle. A large slab of granite topped with an American eagle overlooks the harbour. It reads:

Cyril Richard "Rick" Rescorla

Hayle 1939 - 2001 New York

Rick Gave His Life In The Terrorist Attack

On The World Trade Centre, New York

September 11th 2001,

While Directing The Evacuation.

His Actions On The Day Saved Over 2,700 Lives.

"Greater Love Hath No Man"

1Northern Rhodesia is now Zambia.

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