COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | MICHAEL GIORGINO

Rick Rescorla: The hero Bush forgot

While bidding the nation farewell, President Bush remembered 9/11: "As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11, but I never did."

Yet Bush has apparently forgotten the greatest hero of that fateful day -- Rick Rescorla, who gave his life while saving more than 2,700 people in the World Trade Center.

Rick Rescorla was on duty on the 44th floor of the World Trade Center, Tower Two. He was vice president for corporate security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and a jumbo jet had just plowed into the north tower.

The Port Authority (owner of the building) told him not to evacuate and to order his people to stay at their desks. Rescola told the Port Authority, "Piss off. 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 out of here!"

Rick Rescorla was born in Cornwall, England in 1939. After service in the British armed forces, he earned a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. Rescorla was then sent to Vietnam with the Seventh Cavalry Regiment (Airmobile). He fought in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, described in the book, "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young," and is the gritty soldier pictured on the book's cover. Co-author Lt. Gen. Harold Moore described him as "the best platoon leader I ever saw." Rescorla's men nicknamed him "Hard Core" for his extraordinary courage in battle.

In 1992, Rescorla warned the Port Authority about the possibility of a truck bomb attack in the unguarded basement of the World Trade Center. He was ignored. When Islamic terrorists used this method in the 1993 attack, Rescorla was instrumental in evacuating the building and was the last man out.

Rescorla then predicted the terrorists would return to finish the job with aircraft. He recommended that Morgan Stanley move to a safer location in New Jersey, but its lease in Manhattan did not end until 2006.

At Rescorla's insistence, all employees, including senior executives, began practicing full-blown, no-notice emergency evacuations every three months. There was much grousing and complaining by high-powered stock brokers about being yanked away from their phones and being made to hike down 40 or 50 stories. But it all paid off on 9/11.

At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 struck Tower One. Rescorla had most of Morgan Stanley's 2,700 employees and hundreds of visitors safely out of the building by the time United Airlines Flight 175 hit Tower Two at 9:02 a.m.

Rescorla reminded everyone to "be proud to be an American. Everyone will be talking about you tomorrow." He sang "God Bless America" and military songs over his bullhorn to keep the evacuees calm, including his version of the song from the movie "Zulu":

"Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;

It cannot be ever said ye

for the battle were not ready;

Stand and never yield!"

A Morgan Stanley director told Rescorla he had to get out, too. "As soon as I make sure everyone else is out," Rescorla replied. In a last cell call to his wife Susan, he said, "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." Rick Rescorla was last seen heading up to rescue people who were unable to get down. His remains have never been recovered.

The amazing story of Rick Rescorla is well documented in "Heart of a Soldier" by James B. Stewart (Simon & Schuster, 2002). Tens of thousands of Americans have petitioned President Bush to award Rescorla the Medal of Freedom. Even after the urging of former-Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, Bush has done nothing.

Rick Rescorla died for America. He defied our enemies and said, in effect, "It's not right that 2,700 people should die -- I won't let you kill them!" Absent presidential action, Congress should restore Rescorla -- a retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel -- to active duty status and posthumously award him the Medal of Honor.


Giorgino is a retired Navy Surface Warfare Commander and a Gulf War veteran. He currently practices law in San Diego.

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