Rick Rescorla was calling from the 44th floor of the World Trade Center, icy calm in the crisis. When Rescorla was a platoon leader in Vietnam, his men called him Hard Core, because they had never seen anyone so absurdly unflappable in the face of death. Now 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 voices of officialdom were crackling over the loudspeakers in the south tower, urging everyone to stay put: Please do not leave the building. This area is secure. Rescorla was ignoring them.
“The dumb sons of bitches told me not to evacuate,” he said during a quick call to his best friend, Dan Hill, who had indeed been watching the disaster unfolding on TV. “They said it’s just Building One. I told them I’m getting my people the [expletive] out of here.”
Keep moving, Rescorla commanded over his megaphone while Hill listened. Keep moving.
“Typical Rescorla,” Hill recalls. “Incredible under fire.”
Morgan Stanley lost only six of its 2,700 employees in the south tower on Sept. 11, an isolated miracle amid the carnage. And company officials say Rescorla deserves most of the credit. He drew up the evacuation plan. He hustled his colleagues to safety. And then he apparently went back into the inferno to search for stragglers. He was the last man out of the south tower after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and no one seems to doubt that he would’ve been again last month if the skyscraper hadn’t collapsed on him first. One of the company’s secretaries actually snapped a photo of Rescorla with his megaphone that day, a 62-year-old mountain of a man coolly sacrificing his life for others.
It was an epic death, one of those inspirational hero-tales that have sprouted like wildflowers from the Twin Towers rubble. But it turns out that retired Army Col. Cyril Richard Rescorla led an epic life as well. In this time when heroes are being proclaimed all around, when brave actions are understandably hailed as proofs of character, here was a man whose heroism was a matter of public record long before Sept. 11.