Rick Rescorla

Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla (May 27, 1939 – September 11, 2001) was a British-American soldier, police officer, educator and private security specialist. He is best known for his gallantry in Vietnam with Bravo 2/7 First Cavalry in Vietnam in 1965, and for heroic actions during  the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. His American valor decorations include the CIB, Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He rose to the rank of colonel before retiring from the Reserves and entering the private sector.

Medic has obtained Rescorla’s military records from the National Personnel Records Center.

File 1, File 2, File 3, File 4, File 5, File 6, File 7, File 8, File 9, File 10.

Rescorla was born and raised in Hayle, Cornwall, England. During World War II, as a child he idolized the American soldiers based in his town and hoped to become a soldier like them. At 16 he enlisted in the British Army, training as a paratrooper, then served with an intelligence unit in Cyprus during the Cypriot insurgency. At the end of his four year enlistment, in 1960 Rescorla joined the Northern Rhodesia Police as an inspector, an experience that made him fiercely anti-Communist. During this time he met and befriended the American mercenary Daniel Hill, who encouraged him to join the U.S. Army.

In 1963, following discharge from the Rhodesian police Rescorla returned to London and joined the Metropolitan Police. Unable to settle down in London, he moved to the United States to pursue his passion for combat and enlisted in the army in 1963. After basic, OSC and jump school he was assigned as a platoon leader in Bravo 2/7 First Cavalry. In Vietnam Rescorla participated in the infamous 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle between the American and the North Vietnamese armies, where 305 Americans and 3,561 NVA were killed. With his previous military experience, esprit de corps and bravery he inspired great confidence in his men. In return, they revered him for his humor and compassion toward them.

Among the stories 2/7 Cav vets tell of Lt. Rescorla, there is the time he stumbled into a hooch full of enemy soldiers on a patrol in Bon Song. “Oh, pardon me,” he said, before firing a few rounds and racing away. Or the day a deranged private pulled a .45-caliber pistol on an officer while Rescorla was nearby, sharpening his Bowie knife. “Rick just walked right between them and said: Put. Down. The. Gun.” And the man did. And Rescorla went back to sharpening his knife.

1/7 Cav General Moore described Rescorla as “the best platoon leader I ever saw.” His men nicknamed their lieutenant “Hard Core.” During the fighting Rescorla sang the Australian version of “Wild Colonial Boy” to boost morale—something he would do again on 9-11.

Honorably discharged in 1967 (he retired from the Reserves in 1990 at the rank of colonel), Rescorla used the G.I. Bill to study creative writing, eventually earning a BA, an MA in English, and a law degree. He taught criminal justice for three years and published a textbook on the subject.

In 1985, seeking better pay in corporate security, Rescorla moved to New Jersey and joined Dean Witter Reynolds at the World Trade Center in Manhattan. After the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Rescorla worried about a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He asked Daniel Hill, his American mercenary friend, who was trained in counter-terrorism, to access World Trade Center security. He asked Hill how he would attack the towers if he were he a terrorist. Hill asked to see the basement. After the two men walked to the underground parking garage without being stopped by any visible security, Hill pointed to an easily accessible load-bearing column. “This is a soft touch. I’d drive a truck full of explosives in here, walk out, and light it off,” he said.

That same year Rescorla and Hill wrote a report for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the site, insisting on more parking garage security. Their recommendations, critical but costly to implement, were ignored. Five years later terrorists detonated a truck bomb 30 feet from where Rescorla and Hill had predicted.

Following the 1992 publication of We Were Soldiers Once and Young Rescorla felt uncomfortable being portrayed as a hero. When he saw a photo of himself in combat on the cover he chose not to read the book. Hearing that We Were Soldiers was being made into a film starring Mel Gibson, Rescorla told his wife he had no intention of seeing it. Anything that portrayed him or other survivors as war heroes made him uncomfortable. “The real heroes are dead,” he commented.

Following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Rescorla invited Dan Hill to New York, hiring him as a consultant to analyze the building’s security. Although no arrests had been made, Rescorla suspected the bombers were Muslim terrorists, likely Palestinians, or that an Iraqi colonel of engineers might have planned the attack. Adopting a disguise and speaking fluent Arabic, Hill  took on the character of an anti-American Muslim in order to infiltrate and interview worshipers at mosques he visited. He concluded that the attack was likely planned by a radical imam at a mosque in New York or New Jersey. Subsequently, followers of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a Brooklyn-based radical Muslim cleric, were convicted of the bombing.

With his new credibility Rescorla urged Morgan Stanley to vacate the World Trade Center. He continued to feel, as did Hill, that it remained a target; the next attack could involve a plane crashing into one of the towers. He recommended that Morgan Stanley leave Manhattan, noting that a four-story building in New Jersey would be cheaper and much safer. Yet because the company’s World Trade Center lease would not end until 2006 his advice was ignored. In response, Rescorla insisted that all employees (including senior executives) practice emergency evacuations every three months.

In 1994, Rescorla was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery to remove his prostate. Four years later the cancer returned. His treatment involved painful injections and medications that dehydrated him and caused his body to swell.

After Dean Witter merged with Morgan Stanley in 1997, the company eventually occupied 22 floors in the South Tower and several floors in a building nearby. Losing faith in the Port Authority after it failed to respond to his 1990 warnings, Rescorla concluded that employees of Morgan Stanley, the largest tenant in the World Trade Center, could not rely on first responders in an emergency and needed to prepare themselves through surprise drills.

Rescorla trained employees to meet in the hallway between stairwells and to descend the stairs two by two to the 44th floor. He timed employees with a stopwatch when they moved too slowly and lectured them on fire emergency basics. This strict approach created conflict with executives but Rescorla insisted the drills were necessary.

In a 1998 interview conducted at the World Trade Center Rescorla recounted his combat experiences and warned that American military actions abroad could spur retaliation by enemies of the United States. “Terrorist forces can tie up conventional forces and bring them to their knees,” he said. “Just one man willing to give his life for what he believes in, chooses the time and place, and there is no way that any soldiers can be 100% alert.”

Rescorla and Hill were also critical of the police response during the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, commenting, “The police were sitting outside while kids were getting killed. They should have put themselves between the perpetrators and the victims. That was abject cowardice.” Rescorla felt that if he and Hill were younger, they “could have flown to Colorado, gone in that building, and ended that shit before the law did.”

At 8:46 A.M. on the morning of September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Rescorla heard the explosion and saw the tower burning from his South tower 44th floor office window. When a Port Authority announcement over the P.A. system urged people to stay at their desks, and before United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower at 9:03 A.M., Rescorla grabbed his bullhorn, walkie-talkie and cell phone, and began systematically to order the roughly 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees to evacuate, in addition to a thousand employees in a nearby building.

While watching the news coverage, in a phone call to Dan Hill, Rescorla said, “The dumb sons of bitches told me not to evacuate. They said it’s just Building One. I told them I’m getting my people the fuck out of here.” He directed employees down a stairwell from a bottleneck on the 44th floor, keeping them away from elevators while telling them to remain calm, and by singing Cornish songs from his youth, just as he had done in combat.

Between songs, Rescorla called his wife. “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.” She replied, “You made my life, too.” Then the phone went dead.

After evacuating almost all of Morgan Stanley’s employees, Rescorla re-entered the building. When one of his colleagues told him to evacuate, Rescorla replied, “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out.” He was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower, heading up the stairs, shortly before the building collapsed.

13 Morgan Stanley employees died, including Rescorla, his deputies Wesley Mercer and Jorge Velazquez, and security guard Godwin Forde, who had stayed behind to help others. Rescorla was declared dead three weeks later. His remains were never found.

Rescorla was widely read. Among his many interests, he was fond of the food and the culture of the Portuguese community in Newark, New Jersey, and was learning Portuguese and Arabic. He was fascinated with the American West and interested in the spiritual aspects of Native American culture. He and his second wife Susan participated in yoga, ballroom dancing and studying Italian.

Lost in the inevitable hagiographies of his life (see below) are Rescorla’s lust for combat and his long friendship with the prolific mercenary Daniel Hill. There is little freely available information on Rescorla’s duties as a police inspector in Northern Rhodesia, but colonial Rhodesia was a black majority/white minority police state, where the violent repression of  blacks led to a war of independence. In an apartheid state, it is likely that Rescorla and the Northern Rhodesia Police engaged in violent quasi-military tactics against the black majority, skills that would benefit him in Vietnam.

Daniel Hill was a sniper in the Hungarian Revolution, paratrooper during the Lebanon invasion, and a spy during the Algerian Revolt. He participated in the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, fought as a soldier of fortune in the Congo, did two tours in Vietnam, and fought with the Mujahedin in Afghanistan. By his own reckoning he dispatched at least 200 men over the course of his violent career.

Rescorla’s duties in Cyprus are most often cited without historical context, reduced to a cipher noting his service in a British intelligence unit. But during the Cyprus Emergency (1955-1959) the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA), a guerilla organization, fought the British army in order to end UK colonial rule, and to establish the unification of Cyprus and Greece. As would be the case in Vietnam, the British counter-insurgency tactics, often brutal, alienated most Cypriots, and eventually failed. A complicated settlement allowed a cease-fire and British troop withdraw, followed by a short-lived peace, followed by continued civil tensions and violence. In this context, whatever Rescorla’s actual duties, for a second time he participated in the violent suppression of a popular uprising against a colonial power.

Such friends as Hill, and partaking in three violent colonial campaigns in support of empire illuminate the dark side of the otherwise brilliant and fearless Cyril Richard Rescorla, who is survived by Susan, two children and three stepdaughters. At his request, he was cremated, his ashes strewn in Hayle, where he was born.



DocTeach / Rick Rescorla, A Life of Service and Sacrifice

Military Hall of Fame

The internet abounds with hagiographic tributes to Rick Rescorla. Two examples follow:

A Tower of Courage, by Michael Grunwald, The Washington Post

The Real Heroes are Dead, by James B. Stewart, The New Yorker

Two reviews of  an opera based on the life of Rick Rescorla

New York Times / Heart of a Hero

The Classical Review  / The Heart of a Hero