For nearly thirty years we have taken our holidays in Cornwall, enjoying an invigorating fortnight in the land of the Cornish Pasty. As Cornwall is in the extreme south west of England, and we always holiday in the very westernmost area, named Penwith, we are no strangers to rainy or overcast conditions.
On August 27th 2009 we decided to go to Godrevy, one of our favourite sites either to sit on the beach or to look for seals and seabirds. Alas, this day, conditions were misty and wet:
The famous lighthouse was barely visible:
We decided, therefore, to drive to Hayle, the nearest town, to take an early lunch. My wife went to the local pasty shop to buy some traditional local food. “Philps Famous Pasties from Cornwall, freshly baked every morning”:
Meanwhile, I went off to lay claim to a seat overlooking the harbour:
On the left there is an Art gallery which used to be a butcher’s shop. Looking through the window, I thought this apparent Roman mosaic was the best bit of art in the place:
And this one. An Art Nouveau bull with a thousand yard stare:
And then suddenly I saw it, on the opposite side of the road. A huge stone, surrounded by brightly coloured flower beds, which really stood out from the rather drab grey, misty surroundings:
I crossed the road for a closer look. It was a plaque dedicated to bravery three thousand miles away:
And presumably, it is exactly because that bravery took place three thousand miles away that these heroic deeds remain completely unknown and unheard of in his own country. Let me put that right, though:
“Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla
Rick Gave His Life In The Terrorist Attack
On The World Trade Centre, New York,
September 11th 2001,
While Directing The Evacuation
His Actions On The Day Saved Over 2,700 Lives
“Greater Love Hath No Man”
Here are three maps to help orient yourself. The orange arrow marks the spot:
Rick Rescorla was born in Hayle in 1939. During the war, he made friends with American soldiers from Maryland and Virginia, stationed in Penwith, and preparing for the D-Day invasion. Rick idolized the American soldiers and decided to become a soldier when he grew up.
He joined the British Army in 1957, eventually joining The Parachute Regiment. He then served with an intelligence unit in Cyprus. In 1960 he became a paramilitary police inspector in the Northern Rhodesia Police in central Africa. Back again in London, he joined the Metropolitan Police Service.
He then moved to the United States and eventually went to fight in Vietnam:
For his bravery with the famous 7th Cavalry Regiment, Rick was to win the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry:
Eventually, Rick found himself working in corporate security for Morgan Stanley, with an office on the 44th floor of the South Tower, Tower 2, of the World Trade Centre:
One of the first things Rick did was to instigate emergency evacuations every three months for everybody, including the most senior executives.
He trained everybody to assemble in the hall between the stairwells and then to descend, calmly, in pairs, down to the 44th floor. His strictness with these emergency evacuations caused friction with some of the top management, but he insisted that they were necessary, should a real emergency ever occur. Just as he would have done in the forces, he timed the employees’ performance with his stop watch and gave them detailed instructions on the most basic elements of safety in the event of a major fire.
These measures all came from the fact that Rick, and his colleague, the counter terrorism expert, Daniel Hill, Rick’s old friend from Rhodesia, both believed that an attack could well take place one day, involving a plane being crashed into one of the towers.
At 8:46 a.m. on that fateful morning of September 11th, Rick heard the explosion as American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower and then watched the huge conflagration from his window.
A public announcement was made that everybody should stay at their desks, but Rick ignored it and immediately grabbed his megaphone, radio and cell phone.
He ordered the Morgan Stanley office workers to leave the building, descending by the stairwells with which they were so familiar. He also made sure a thousand workers were evacuated from World Trade Centre 5.
After a short interval, the South Tower was shaken violently by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175, almost forty floors above them. Rick continued to calm his fellow workers, and the much practiced evacuation continued to proceed smoothly down the stairwell. One of the company’s office workers actually took a photograph of Rick with his megaphone that day, “a 62-year-old mountain of a man coolly sacrificing his life for others”. Here are Rick Rescorla and his colleagues, Jorge Velazquez, and Godwin Forde – leading the evacuation on 9-11:
As he had done with his scared soldiers in Vietnam, in an effort to allay their fears, Rick sang to the frightened staff members as they descended. He used his own song based on “Men of Harlech”:
“Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming;
Can’t you see their spear points 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!”
The vast majority of Morgan Stanley’s 2,687 employees were now safe, thanks to Rick Rescorla, but he went back into the building to make sure that he had not missed anybody and that there were no stragglers.
Rick was seen for the last time on the tenth floor, climbing upwards. At one minute to ten, the South Tower collapsed. Rick was never found. Of the huge number of people whose protection was his responsibility, all but six survived.
There was almost unbelievable bravery shown that day by the members of the Fire Department, City of New York:
Equal levels of bravery came from the members of the City of New York Police Department:
Rick Rescorla, an Englishman, was not found wanting.
He had not been found wanting in Vietnam either:
One of his fellow soldiers described him:
“My God, it was like Little Big Horn. We were all cowering in the bottom of our foxholes, expecting to get overrun. Rescorla gave us courage to face the coming dawn. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘When the sun comes up, we’re gonna kick some ass.'”
Rick has not been forgotten in his home town of Hayle. Here is the Rick Rescorla Wildlife Garden at the Penpol School in Hayle (ages 5-11):
The Cornish Stannary Parliament honoured Rick with “The White Cross of Cornwall”, “An Grows Wyn a Gernow”. It is made from pure Cornish tin and Cornish Delabole slate in a hand-madebox of Cornish elm:
In this picture, Jon Daniels, in the centre, presents the cup to the winners of the Rick Rescorla Memorial Triathlon:
To finish with, here is the song “Men of Harlech”. It is taken from the film “Zulu“, as more than four thousand African warriors lay siege to Rorke’s Drift, defended by just 150 British Empire troops of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot (2nd/24th) and 2nd/3rd Natal Native Contingent:
And finally, the full quote from the Gospel according to St John, Chapter 15, Verse 13. Christian or not, it is no less true:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”