Skip to comments.911 Remembered: Rick Rescorla was a soldier: Have you seen the movie We were Soldiers?
Posted on 01/20/2005 11:34:33 AM PST by ckilmer
September 10, 2004 911 Remembered: Rick Rescorla was a soldier Have you seen the movie We were Soldiers?
A good one, in my opinion. Given just a couple hours to tell a tale I think all in all the folks involved did a commendable job.
Perhaps it's hard to go wrong, given the source material. We Were Soldiers Once, And Young is an account of the battle at Ia Drang Valley, fought in the still early phases of the war in Viet Nam. The book was written by Hal Moore, who was then a Lt Col and commander of the American troops in the valley, and Joe Galloway, a reporter who was at the battle. Their collaboration is a truly human account of men at war- including the enemy viewpoint, as Galloway and Moore's efforts at capturing the battle on paper were thorough enough to include interviews with survivors from the other side.
Take a look at the cover. The prominent figure is Rick Rescorla, described thusly on the LZ Xray web page:
No sleep for 48 hours. Grimy, unshaven, filthy uniform. Canteens loose, dogtags hanging out, pocket unbuttoned, helmet strap hanging. No insignia of rank, sleeves up. Dirty fingernails. His bayonet is fixed; trigger finger alert and ready for action. Lt. Rick Rescorla, Platoon Leader, B Co 2/7 Cav in Bayonet Attack on the morning of 16 Nov 1965(1)
This is not a posed shot; this is a man moving forward into combat. Eyes forward. Ready.
On that day,
The PAVN Commander knows that he had severely weakened and damaged the defenders in the Charlie Co sector the previous morning. What he does not know is that a fresh company - B Co 2nd Bn 7th Cav, had taken over the position after that engagement. That company, unmolested the previous afternoon, had cut fields of fire, dug new foxholes, fired in artillery concentrations, carefully emplaced it's machine guns and piled up ammunition(1). Rescorla directed his men to dig foxholes and establish a defense perimeter. Exploring the hilly terrain beyond the perimeter, he came under enemy fire. After nightfall, he and his men endured waves of assault. To keep morale up, Rescorla led the men in military cheers and Cornish songs throughout the night(2).
Rescorla knew war. His men did not, yet. To steady them, to break their concentration away from the fear that may grip a man when he realizes there are hundreds of men very close by who want to kill him, Rescorla sang. Mostly he sang dirty songs that would make a sailor blush. Interspersed with the lyrics was the voice of command: Fix bayonets on liiiiine reaaaa-dy forward. It was a voice straight from Waterloo, from the Somme, implacable, impeccable, impossible to disobey. His men forgot their fear, concentrated on his orders and marched forward as he led them straight into the pages of history.(3)
The PAVN assaults four separate times beginning at 4:22 AM. The last is at 6:27 AM. They are stopped cold, losing over 200 dead. B Co has 6 wounded. At 9:55 AM, a sweep outward is made which results in more enemy dead and the position secured(1).
The next morning, Rescorla took a patrol through the battlefield, searching for American dead and wounded. As he looked over a giant anthill, he encountered an enemy machine-gun nest. The startled North Vietnamese fired on him, and Rescorla hurled a grenade into the nest. There were no survivors(2).
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 tonightwe'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."(2)
"My God, it was like Little Big Horn," recalls Pat Payne, a reconnaissance platoon leader. "We were all cowering in the bottom of our foxholes, expecting to get overrun. Rescorla gave us courage to face the coming dawn. He looked me in the eye and said, 'When the sun comes up, we're gonna kick some ass.' "
Sure enough, the battalion fought its way out of Albany. Rescorla left the field with a morale-boosting souvenir: a battered French Army bugle that the North Vietnamese had once claimed as a trophy of war. It became a talisman for his entire division.(4)
Lt Rescorla survived that engagement and many others.
He had grown up in a village on England's southwest coast and left at age sixteen to join the British military. He'd fought against Communists in Cyprus and Rhodesia. He then came to America, he said, so that he could enlist in the Army and go to Vietnam. He welcomed the opportunity to join the American cause in Southeast Asia. He worked his way up through the ranks to Sergeant before being commissioned.
The epitome of the young warrior, he was the sort that England seems to have bred in abundance for centuries: the type of young man who in times past went forth from Britain and created an empire upon which the sun never set. England happened to be fresh out of wars in the 1960s, so Rescorla became an American and fought in ours.(3) More stories from Viet Nam:
The survivors of the 7th Cavalry still tell awestruck stories about Rescorla. Like the time he stumbled into a hooch full of enemy soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol in Bon Song. "Oh, pardon me," he said, before firing a few rounds and racing away. "Oh, comma, pardon me," repeats Dennis Deal, who followed Rescorla that day in April 1966. "Like he had walked into a ladies' tea party!" Or the time 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." recalls Bill Lund, who served with Rescorla in Vietnam. "And the guy did. Then Rick went back to his knife. He was flat out the bravest man any of us ever knew."(4)
After fighting in Vietnam, he returned to the United States and used his military benefits to study creative writing at the University of Oklahoma. Literary minded, even before college he had read all fifty-one volumes of the Harvard Classics and could recite Shakespeare and quote Churchill. He had started writing a novel about a mobile-air-cavalry unit, and had several stories published in Western-themed magazines. He eventually earned a bachelor's, a master's in literature, and a law degree.
Rescorla then moved to South Carolina for a brief teaching career. He left for greener pastures; jobs in corporate security eventually led him to Dean Witter in 1985. He moved to New Jersey, commuted to Manhattan, and rose to become vice-president in charge of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.
And, oh by the way, was still in the Army, as a Reservist, having advanced to colonel before retiring in 1990.
Rescorla's office was on the forty-fourth floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. The firm occupied twenty-two floors in the south tower, and several floors in a building nearby. In 1990 Rescorla and Dan Hill, an old Army friend, evaluated the security, identifying load bearing columns in the parking garage as a weak point. A security official for the Port Authority dismissed their concerns. On February 26, 1993, a truck bomb exploded in the basement.
Rescorla ensured that every one of his firm's employees was safely evacuated, and was the last man out of the building.
Rescorla met his wife while running barefoot. Still determined to be a writer he had been scripting a play set in Rhodesia, based on his experiences there. Few of the native Rhodesians had worn shoes, which was why, he explained to her, he had to feel what it was like to run barefoot.
Some insight into the man's character:
Rescorla may have told Susan that he was running barefoot as research for a play, but he had already been running barefoot in Africa, and then at Fort Dix, toughening his soles to the point where he could extinguish a fire with his bare feet. He told Hill that if he lost his boots in combat it wouldn't matter. This was something he'd absorbed from his years in Africa. "You should be able to strip a man naked and throw him out with nothing on him," he told Hill. By the end of the day, the man should be clothed and fed. By the end of the week, he should own a horse. And by the end of a year he should own a business and have money in the bank.(2) Small wonder that the final chapter of the story goes like this:
In St. Augustine, Dan Hill was laying tile in his upstairs bathroom when his wife called, "Dan, get down here! An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center. It's a terrible accident." Hill hurried downstairs, and then the phone rang. It was Rescorla, calling from his cell phone. "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.
Hill could hear Rescorla issuing orders through the bullhorn. He was calm and collected, never raising his voice. Then Hill heard him break into song:
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!
Rescorla came back on the phone. "Pack a bag and get up here," he said. "You can be my consultant again." He added that the Port Authority was telling him not to evacuate and to order people to stay at their desks.
"What'd you say?" Hill asked.
"I said, 'Piss off, you son of a bitch,' " Rescorla replied. "Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it's going to take the whole building with it. I'm getting my people the fuck out of here." Then he said, "I got to go. Get your shit in one basket and get ready to come up."
Hill turned back to the TV and, within minutes, saw the second plane execute a sharp left turn and plunge into the south tower. Susan saw it, too, and frantically phoned her husband's office. No one answered.
About fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. It was Rick. She burst into tears and couldn't talk.
"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."
Susan cried even harder, gasping for breath. She felt a stab of fear, because the words sounded like those of someone who wasn't coming back. "No!" she cried, but then he said he had to go. Cell-phone use was being curtailed so as not to interfere with emergency communications.
From the World Trade Center, Rescorla again called Hill. He said he was taking some of his security men and making a final sweep, to make sure no one was left behind, injured, or lost. Then he would evacuate himself. "Call Susan and calm her down," he said. "She's panicking."
Hill reached Susan, who had just got off the phone with Sullivan. "Take it easy," he said, as she continued to sob. "He's been through tight spots before, a million times." Suddenly Susan screamed. Hill turned to look at his own television and saw the south tower collapse. He thought of the words Rescorla had so often used to comfort dying soldiers. "Susan, he'll be O.K.," he said gently. "Take deep breaths. Take it easy. If anyone will survive, Rick will survive."
When Hill hung up, he turned to his wife. Her face was ashen. "Shit," he said. "Rescorla is dead."(2)
The rest of Rick Rescorla's morning is shrouded in some mystery. The tower went dark. Fire raged. Windows shattered. Rescorla headed upstairs before moving down; he helped evacuate several people above the 50th Floor. Stephan Newhouse, chairman of Morgan Stanley International, said at a memorial service in Hayle that Rescorla was spotted as high as the 72nd floor, then worked his way down, clearing floors as he went. He was telling people to stay calm, pace themselves, get off their cell phones, keep moving. At one point, he was so exhausted he had to sit for a few minutes, although he continued barking orders through his bullhorn. Morgan Stanley officials said he called headquarters shortly before the tower collapsed to say he was going back up to search for stragglers.
John Olson, a Morgan Stanley regional director, saw Rescorla reassuring colleagues in the 10th-floor stairwell. "Rick, you've got to get out, too," Olson told him. "As soon as I make sure everyone else is out," Rescorla replied.
Morgan Stanley officials say Rescorla also told employees that "today is a day to be proud to be American" and that "tomorrow, the whole world will be talking about you." They say he also sang "God Bless America" and Cornish folk tunes in the stairwells. Those reports could not be confirmed, although they don't sound out of character. He liked to sing in a crisis. But the documented truth is impressive enough. Morgan Stanley managing director Bob Sloss was the only employee who didn't evacuate the 66th floor after the first plane hit, pausing to call his family and several underlings, even taking a call from a Bloomberg News reporter. Then the second plane hit, and his office walls cracked, and he felt the tower wagging like a dog's tail. He clambered down to the 10th floor, and there was Rescorla, sweating through his suit in the heat, telling people they were almost out, making no move to leave himself.
Rick did not make it out. Neither did two of his security officers who were at his side. But only three other Morgan Stanley employees died when their building was obliterated. (4)
However, over 2600 employees of Dean Whitter walked out of the south tower and in to the rest of their lives that morning.
Incredibly, you can "meet" Rick Rescorla via video interview made in 1998. He discusses Ia Drang and beyond, with some chilling words for the world today. Remind yourself as you watch and listen that he was speaking in 1998. Must see. Amazing.
Listen to the man and then you can add your signature to an online petition calling on the President to award the Medal of Freedom to Rick Rescorla.
A PETITION TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH TO AWARD THE PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM TO C.R.RICK RESCORLA FOR HEROISM AND GALLANTRY BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY ON SEPTEMBER 11,2001.
MR. RESCORLA CAME TO THIS COUNTRY AS AN IMMIGRANT TO BECOME AN OFFICER IN THE ARMY. MR RESCORLA SERVED WITH SUCH DISTINCTION AS AN OFFICER IN VIET NAM THAT ALL WHO SERVED WITH HIM CONSIDER HIM THE BRAVEST MAN WE HAVE EVER KNOWN. HE WAS HIGHLY DECORATED FOR HIS BRAVERY AND LEADERSHIP IN COMBAT. HE BECAME A US CITIZEN AND SOUGHT A HIGHER EDUCATION OBTAINING A BACHELOR AND MASTERS DEGREE AT UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA AND FURTHER OBTAINING A LAW DEGREE BEFORE SERVING A AS TEACHER AT USC LAW SCHOOL BEFORE BEING LURED TO THE WORLD OF COMMERCIAL BANKING. MR. RESCORLAS SPECIALTY WAS SECURITY AND SECURITY LAW. IN 1993 HE WAS THE LAST MAN OUT OF THE TRADE TOWERS AFTER EVACUATING EVERYONE. ON SEPT.11TH IN SPITE OF BEING TOLD HIS BUILDING WAS NOT IN DANGER, HE IMPLEMENTED THE EVACUATION PLAN HE HAD DEVELOPED FOR HIS FIRM, MORGAN STANLEY. AS A DIRECT RESULT OF HIS EFFORTS THAT DAY AND HIS QUICK ACTION, OVER 2600 EMPLOYEES WERE SAVED. MR RESCORLA WAS LAST SEEN GOING UP TO RESCUE PEOPLE WHO WERE UNABLE TO GET DOWN. HIS ACTIONS REFLECT THE VERY BEST ABOUT AMERICA, ITS CITIZENS AND ITS DREAMS.
THE UNDERSIGNED URGE YOU TO RECOGNIZE MR RESCORLA BY BESTOWING THIS HIGHEST HONOR TO THIS MOST DESERVING MAN.
People who knew Rescorla note that all this is exactly what he wouldn't want.
He shunned public praise for his past heroism, kept his war photos and medals in a closet, and told his wife he didn't want to see the Mel Gibson movie based on "We Were Soldiers" when it came out. To the friends he left behind, his death made a kind of cosmic sense on a day when the universe was out of order: The right man in the right place at the right time. He left in a blaze of glory. With no parade. Rescorla was a man who didn't need to be reminded of the high price of freedom. However we do.(4)
Perhaps a Shakespeare quote then?
"His life was gentle, and the elements So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world 'This was a man!'"
The tragedy of 911 was this multiplied by three thousand.
(1) More information on LZ Xray and the battle at Ia Drang can be found at the web page devoted to the battle.
(2) You can read a better account of the life of Rick Rescorla from The New Yorker. Please do so. Update: The article, by James Stewart, formed the basis for his book on Rick Rescorla's life: Heart of a Soldier. I learned of this book only recently through the comments section below, have since purchased it, and agree wholeheartedly with those who recommend it without reservation.
(3) More insight from Vietnam Magazine
(4) And even more from The American Legion.
A picture of Rick Rescorla taken inside the World Trade Center on 911, along with additional information can be seen at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans memorial site.
To my visitors from the Cav and the Ia Drang
I'm honored by your presence, and hope I've done right by your fallen brother.
May a fair wind ever find you and ease the burdens of your day.
OUR HEARTS, SO STOUT, HAVE BROUGHT US FAME, FOR SOON TIS KNOWN FROM WHENCE WE CAME. WHERE'ER WE GO THEY DREAD THE NAME...
I salute you.
Update: As promised in comments, Carradine has sent this recording of the poem about Rick. Many thanks sir! (10 Sep 04 update: audio files missing, will restore ASAP)
Those who wish to help keep the memory alive are encouraged to link this post via these banners:
well there are those who claim I'm still NUTZ! LOL
You must read the Grunt Padre, I highly recommend it - it's awesome.
the author, Fr Mode, is an Arlington priest and also a Navy Chaplain.
p.s. hope to see some FReepers at the March For Life on Monday....
Don't sweat it. My late FIL refused to watch the (dreadful) movie "Pearl Harbor" ... he was there, didn't need any reminders. I told him he wasn't missing anything anyway, the movie sucked. I'm sort of disgusted with myself, that I wasted 2.5 hours of my life watching it. "Saving Private Ryan" busted him up pretty bad, even though he wasn't there. Too similar, I guess ... You're in good company.
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