Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stand and Never Yield

RickRescola.jpgImage via WikipediaI ask that you indulge me today.  A day that is sad for everyone but a day that I am learning is quickly being forgotten by individuals who are younger than myself.  I have had conversations with these people who ask, why do we have to keep going through this, why do we need to keep looking at these pictures and hearing about this?  I guess I would have to say that if you need to ask, that is reason enough.

The following is a story from a book entitled "Warriors" edited by Loren Christensen.  It is a compilation of stories about heroes and bravery.  Even though today is a day that we hear many heroic encounters of events, I believe this is one of the ones that has touched me and I would like to share it with you.

How Rick Rescorla Saved 2,700 Lives on 9-11
(as told to Fred McBee)

Rick Rescorla predicted 9-11.  He also predicted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  It is a matter of record.  Rescorla was the vice president for security for Dean Witter Corporation when he foresaw the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.  Two years before this first attack, he predicted it would be a truck bomb exploding in the unsecured basement parking area.  He went to the New York/New Jersey Port Authority with his warnings and was told to "be concerned with the security of the 40 floors that Dean Witter leases from us and leave the rest to us".  Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley received about one-quarter billion dollars in settlement fees for the Port Authority's negligence in failing to heed the informed warnings of the coming 1993 attack.  

Still ignorant, arrogant, and flat-out stupid, the Port Authority and Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley refused to heed Rescorla's second warning - a very specific warning - that another attack was coming - this time from the air - in the form of commercial aircraft.  Rescorla was a hair off.  He thought it would be cargo aircraft out of Europe or the Middle East loaded with explosives.

Asked by his superiors what could be done to prevent such an attack, Rescorla replied, "Nothing.  Get out of this building.  It's nothing but a big, soft target.  And they intend to hit us again.  Move across the river to New Jersey.  Build, buy, or rent a group of low-rise buildings.  Spread out into smaller targets.  In this computer age we could do our business from the middle of North Dakota.  We don't need Wall Street anymore."

How does a man come to posses this ability to so accurately predict future events?  He had no crystal ball.  He was not clairvoyant.  He was a professional in the arts of intelligence, security, and counterguerrilla warfare.  He had spent his entire life centered on these things.  Over a lifetime, Rescorla accumulated knowledge and experience that allowed him to know how, when, why, and where his enemy would strike.

Rescorla was born in May 1939 in Hayle, Cornwall, England.  His childhood memories were of commando raids by British forces, OSS (Office of Strategic Services) operations, and the French Resistance.  As a youth he read about these events, studied them, analyzed them, criticized them - like a Monday morning quarterback.  He was virtually nurtured at the tit of war and special operations.

In his teens he joined the British army, became a paratrooper, and then went into intelligence and led a unit fighting guerillas and insurgents in Cyprus.  Then he went to Africa  Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), where he fought more guerrillas and insurgents.  After that, he joined the London police force as a member of the Scotland Yard Flying Squad, where he was much involved in anti-IRA operations.  In 1963, he came to the United States and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private.  In April 1965 he was commissioned as a U.S. officer of infantry out of the OCS course at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Five months later he was commanding a platoon of 44 men in Vietnam with the 2/7th Cavalry Battalion of the 1st Air Cavalry Division.  Two months after that he was one of the most distinguised heroes of the battle of Ia Drang Valley (see the Joe Galloway/Lt Gen. Hal Moore book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young).

After the war, Rescorla left active army service (although he stayed in the National Guard until he retired as a colonel).  In 1967 he became an American citizen.  He had paid his dues.  He went to college at the University of Oklahoma, where he studied literature and writing.  Then he went to law school and became a lawyer.  He taught criminal justice at the University of South Carolina in Columbia for a while, but the academic life was too tame for him.  He went into the banking/financial security business and quickly advanced to the top ranks of his profession.

Over the course of his life, Rescorla developed a corps of men he could rely upon: thinkers, soldiers, politicians, writers, law enforcement officials - second class, politically incorrect, belligerent men who saw things as they actually were and not what they seem to be.  From these he developed his own brain trust - his own intelligence unity, his own staff and group of counselors.  He kept in contact with them by telephone.  He posed questions - hypothetical situations concerning international developments and problems.  He collected, consolidated, and analyzed the input from this net of agents and thus came to logical conclusions.  Some he hired for short periods as consultants.  One, a natural insurgent/guerrilla/warrior, he brought to New York to make an estimate of the situation and the likely plan of attack upon the World Trade Center.  In 1990-91, all this produced the prediction of the 1993 bombing. In 1995-96, it predicted the 2001 air attack.

See?  No horoscope, no crystal ball, no tarot cards, just plain and simple intelligence and professional expertise and logical projection, i.e., "If you want to know what a terrorist is likely to do, just ask a terrorist - or one whose mind works like that of a terrorist."

Now, why was Rick Rescorla a hero on 9-11?  Because after being told by Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley that they could not relocate - that their lease ran to 2005 and maybe after that the move would be possible - Rescorla planned and drilled the Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley staff and employees in the evacuation of the World Trade Center offices that they occupied.  

Despite criticism and intimidation, despite ridicule and denigration, Rescorla forced his people to drill.  Without warning, he'd sound an alarm and then lead the entire company through a mandatory, rapid, efficient, and safe evacuation practice.  They grumbled and they griped, but they did it.

Rescorla installed generators and stair lighting in case of power failure (which came to be).  He assigned office and floor wardens to ensure control and accountability of personnel in evacuating.  Rescorla insisted on buddy teams - people were to go two-y-two down the stairs in an orderly and rapid manner.  Rescorla made sure that elderly and handicapped persons had three or four others to assist them.  And he drilled them - over and over, again and again - until it became a conditioned response, like that of "a soldier going into an antiambush drill." as Rescorla put it.

On the day of the crisis, when the first tower was hit, the Port Authority ordered everyone in the second tower to stay at their desks.  Rescorla made a command decision to countermand that order.  "Bugger that!" he said.  And then he initiated his conditioned response plan.  Evacuation began immediately.

Trained, conditioned, the Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley employees responded.  They implemented Rescorla's plan; 2,700 people followed his drill.  Rescorla was everywhere - the halls, the stairwells - from the 10th to the 70th floor.  His voice could be heard about the near mayhem, keeping everyone calm, responsive, moving in a controlled and orderly manner.  At times he sang to them over his megaphone.  He sang "God Bless America" in that booming deep baritone of his.  And he sag the defiant "Men of Harlech," just as he'd done when the 7th Cavalry was surrounded in the Ia Drang Valley, just as the British army had done when surrounded by the Zulus at Rourke's Drift.

                             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!

All but six of Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley's employees survived.  They got out - alive.  They live today.  They live because Rescorla was watching out for them.

Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley was not comprised of its equipment, computers, files, fixtures, furnishings, or potted plants.  It was comprised of its people - those 2,700 individuals, their minds and talents and experience.  When Rescorla saved their lives through his foresight and actions, he also saved the largest financial institution in the nation, in the world, on this earth.

But Rescorla did not survive.  After shepherding the 2,700 out of the building, Rescorla knew there were still a few above - the confused, the disoriented, the inured.  And as everyone who knew Rescorla knows, he would leave no man behind.

An so he went up into that tower of death in an attempt to save them.  He knew it was a forlorn hope.  He knew that he would probably die in his attempt.  But Rescorla was a man who could never live with himself in the future if he did not try to save those few who were left.  So he went up.  And the tower came down.  And Rescorla is no more.

I know this is true.  I was Rescorla's best friend, confidant, and comrade-in-arms throughout our entire adult lives.  I fought with him in Africa, went through OCS at the same time he did, fought in Vietnam with him.  I am the guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist-at-heart he hired as a consultant.  My children called him "Uncle Rick."  My wife thought of him as the brother and sibling she'd never really had.  I was best man at both of his weddings.  From 1970 until his death, we spoke on the telephone three or four times a week.  His children called me "Uncle Dan."  Not by blood or birth but by choice we were brothers.  (For a full account of Rescorla and Hill's legendary exploits and amazing friendship, read Heart of a Soldier by James B. Stewart.)

On 9-11, as he went through that trial, we spoke over the cell phone as things progressed from the initial aircraft hit until he went up looking for the few survivors who may have been left behind.  After he started up, he called his wife, Susan.  His last words to her were, "You made my life."  Susan and I were both watching our TV when Rick's tower went down, taking him and his life with it.

I have wept only one time over the loss of my one true friend, brother, and companion - and that, unfortunately, was on national television while being interviewed by Jane Pauley.  She asked me then if that was the first time I had cried over Rick.  I replied, "Yeah.  I've been too busy being proud of him.  I've been too busy cheering."

I have vowed to never again cry over Rick Rescorla and his death.  It was not an event to weep over.  It was a noble ending for a noble man.  I choose to rejoice in that.  I will continue to cheer.

Such magnificent men are rare.  They appear every few eons or so, and they are a gift to mankind.  Rescorla died the death for which he was destined - standing for the principles of honor, integrity, and valor.  He was a man who considered every man to be as important as himself.  From bush natives in Africa to the barons of Wall Street, he considered every life as valuable as his own.  In the end, he died as he lived - in service to his fellow man.  Like the Good Book says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"  (John 15:13).

There was no better man in history.  There probably never will be better.  I give you 2,700 survivors of the 9-11 World Trade Center disaster as witnesses.

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