This post is a BizzyBlog 9/11 tradition.
In retrospect, it’s astonishing that the death toll from the 9/11 attacks wasn’t much higher. Vietnam War hero Rick Rescorla is one of the main reasons.
The following is excerpted from an item originally posted at Mudville Gazette in 2003 (Warning: Strong language):
… 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.
.. (on 9/11, Rescorla friend) 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.
… 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 f*ck out of here.”
… 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. “Sh*t,” he said. “Rescorla is dead.”
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.
Blackfive’s Greyhawk notes that over 2600 employees of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter walked out of the south tower and in to the rest of their lives that morning thanks to Rick Rescorla.
Despite his post-9/11 brag that the attacks worked out better than he had expected, Osama bin Laden, with his background in construction, almost surely knew that the jets would level the Twin Towers, and was thus anticipating well over 10,000 deaths. By reducing the horrible toll, people like Rick Rescorla, the rescuers at the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the heroes of Flight 93 prevented bin Laden from achieving a much grander ambition, and demonstrated that while America may have appeared to be a paper tiger before the attacks, that would no longer be the case, beginning on September 12, i.e., “tomorrow, (when) the whole world will be talking about you.”