Jon E. Garrett
Writing the future of journalism one post at a time


September 11, 2012

Rescorla’s example will never be forgotten

Be prepared.

Rick Rescorla directing the evacuation of Morgan Stanley employees following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. Thanks to his preparation and leadership all but six of Morgan Stanley’s employees made it out of the inferno alive.

It is a credo first put on my mind by mother as a young child and later hammered in by the scoutmasters, teachers and coaches that guided my growth from boy to man.

It is one I still live by today.

I paid attention in class, did the extra work and consider the world my classroom now – everyone I meet an educator. The only thing I nearly enjoy as much as learning is exercise, and because of my quest to be as strong in mind as in body I would like to think I could handle almost anything that might come my way.

I don’t flinch in dark alleys. I look for exit routes, hazards and potential weapons. When someone wants to fight I don’t back down, but attempt to defuse their anger while holding my ground, and – perhaps most importantly – I tend to expect the unexpected.

The one thing I’ve learned in my three decades on this Earth, is that you can never truly know what will happen. You cannot predict the future. No amount of study or training can assure your success in all situations, but through those things you can alleviate the fear that paralyzes so many in unpredictable situations and leads to their downfall.

Rick Rescorla knew fear. He was a soldier, a very successful one. It is a status you do not obtain without learning to master your fear, or at least live with the battlefield’s constant companion.

The former British army officer was nicknamed “Hard Core” by the platoon of men he led in Vietnam, where he had come after enlisting in the U. S. Army voluntarily following his British military career.

He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for his efforts and immortalized later in books and film.

But that was before the age of reality television, Internet fame and the 24-hour news cycle that was just beginning its long, slow birth, so on September 11, 2001, when the first plane hit, Rescorla was not basking in the adulation of fame. Like so many of us, he was just another guy doing his job. Thankfully for the employees of Morgan Stanley that job was vice president of security for the financial services firm, almost all of whose 2,700 employees were saved because Rescorla knew fear and was prepared to overcome it when it came.

Following the terrorist attacks on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 he worried that the World Trade Center presented a tempting target to agitators. He suggested more security in the parking garage and other changes in a paper he co-authored to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1990, but the request fell on deaf ears due to cost.

After the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 Rescorla had everyone’s attention but since his suggestion that the company move out of Manhattan was not feasible due to its lease at the time he endeavored to prepare the employees of Morgan Stanley – from secretaries to senior executives – for the attack he deemed inevitable and any other disaster that might hit.

Every three months they practiced evacuating the building, there were surprise fire drills, detailed escape plans, basic fire safety was taught and when things went to slow Rescorla would pull out his stopwatch to time the drills.

So, when they heard Rescorla on his bullhorn that day, urging them to evacuate shortly after the first plane hit the first tower, the employees of Morgan Stanley were surely experiencing fear. They had heard the impact. Some could see the flames. But thanks to his hard work, his relentless preparation they did not freeze.

They met up in the hallways between stairwells, went down two by two as he trained them and when another plane slammed into the building they were in, he sang the same Cornish songs from his youth that he had used to soothe his men in Vietnam.

“Men of Cornwall stand ye steady. It cannot be ever said ye for the battle were not ready. Stand and never yield!”

The tune wafted along the air along with the smoke and debris keeping the panic at bay long enough to get most of his people out of the building, but he had to be sure. So, when the majority of his people were out he went back into the maelstrom – never to return. No body was found for his wife to mourn.

He had prepared for even that.

“If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life,” he told Betsy in rushed calls during the evacuation while urging her not to cry.

Surely she did anyway, but like so many on that long ago day, Rescorla prepared her for the worse and once the fear was gone, she was not paralyzed by it and like the nearly 2,700 employees her husband saved – was able to move on with her life.



About the Author

Jon E. Garrett



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  1. Teresa Lynn Thompson

    Thanks for this article, Jon. I was not familiar with this true hero’s story.

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    I have learn a few just right stuff here. Definitely value bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to make this kind of great informative site….

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