A good death.

By mw | Related entries in News

I was going to post something else today, but decided instead to repost this tribute I wrote for the five year anniversary. I expect that by now, most have already learned about Rick Rescorla, the man in charge of Morgan Stanley security in the World Trade Center on 9/11. He is widely attributed to be the reason that most Morgan Stanley employees survived. If there is a lesson to be learned from 9/11 that transcends considerations of how to secure airports and borders, assess risk, protect property and lives, play politics or fight terrorists, it is a lesson that Rick Rescorla taught us that day. A lesson on how to live and how to die.


On the occasion of the anniversary of 9/11, a digression from the politics of the day and a short meditation on the death and remarkable life of Rick Rescorla. Much has been said about Rick Rescorla, by authors, journalists, film makers, friends and family. It is through those voices and because of 9/11 that I learned about Rick. It is through his voice and the voices of those that knew him best that I find meaning in the tragic events of seven years ago.

His best friend and comrade in arms, Daniel Hill:

“I have vowed to never again to 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.”

From a conversation with Dan Hill – April 2001:

“God, look at us .. We should have died performing some great deed — go out in a blaze of glory, not end up with somebody spoon-feeding us and changing our nappies.” – Rick Rescorla

From an e-mail to friend Bill Shucart – September 5, 2001

“I have accepted the fact that there will never be a kairos moment for me, just an uneventful Miltonian plow-the-fields discipline . . . a few more cups of mocha grande at Starbucks, each one losing a little bit more of its flavor” – Rick Rescorla

Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam – November 14, 1965

Rick Rescorla at Ia Drang

“… during the periods of silence he encouraged talk between the foxholes to ease the tension. When all else failed, Rescorla sang “Wild Colonial Boy” and a Cornish favorite, “Going Up Camborne Hill” – slow and steady tunes, which were answered by shouts of “Hard Corps!” and “Garry Owen!” that told him his men were standing firm…. Rescorla directed his men to dig foxholes and establish a defense perimeter. Exploring the hilly terrain beyond the perimeter, he came under enemy fire. After nightfall, he and his men endured waves of assault. To keep morale up, Rescorla led the men in military cheers and Cornish songs throughout the night… Rescorla knew war. His men did not, yet. To steady them, to break their concentration away from the fear that may grip a man when he realizes there are hundreds of men very close by who want to kill him, Rescorla sang. Mostly he sang dirty songs that would make a sailor blush. Interspersed with the lyrics was the voice of command: “Fix bayonets. – on liiiiine reaaaa-dy – forward.” – We Were Soldiers Once … and Young, Joseph Galloway and Harold Moore

Hayle, Cornwall – May, 2001

“When Rescorla returned to Hayle to visit his mother, he always called on a lonely blind man named Stanley Sullivan at the town’s nursing home. Sullivan loved his pint, and Rescorla always brought him cans of Guinness. Then they would sing Cornish oldies like “The White Rose” into the night, tears streaming down their faces… In some ways, Rescorla seemed more Cornish than his friends who had stayed in Hayle. He knew all the old Cornish songs and the local history. He’d invite people to the pub, throw open the bar, and have them all singing. Rescorla never seemed to forget anyone in the village.” – James B. Stewart, “The Real Heroes Are Dead,” The New Yorker, February 11, 2002

Morristown, New Jersey – September 11, 2001

“…he rose as usual at 4:30 A.M. on the eleventh, and headed into the shower. Susan could hear him in there, singing an English music-hall tune. He sang in the shower almost every morning… When he came out of the shower that morning, he continued singing and broke into a dance routine. Then he launched into an impression of the actor Anthony Hopkins. “I’ve never felt better in my life,” he told Susan. He grabbed her around the waist for a few dance steps before he kissed her goodbye. “I love you so,” he said, and then left for the train station.” James B. Stewart, “The Real Heroes Are Dead,” The New Yorker, February 11, 2002


Stairwell, South Tower, WTC, New York – September 11, 2001

Rick Rescorla in the South tower of WTC minutes before it collapsed

“Hill hurried downstairs, and then the phone rang. It was Rescorla, calling from his cell phone… Hill could hear Rescorla issuing orders through the bullhorn. He was calm and collected, never raising his voice. Then Hill heard him break into song… Rescorla came back on the phone. “…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 fuck out of here. .. and he sang the defiant Men of Harlech, just as he’d done when the 7th Cavalry was surrounded in the Ia Drang Valley…” – Michael Grunwald, Washington Post, 10/28/01

Defiant Men of Harlech
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!

“You see, for Rick Rescorla, this was a natural death. People like Rick, they don’t die old men. They aren’t destined for that and it isn’t right for them to do so. It just isn’t right, by God, for them to become feeble, old, and helpless sons of bitches. There are certain men born in this world, and they’re supposed to die setting an example for the rest of the weak bastards we’re surrounded with.” – Dan Hill

“One who is to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year’s Day, through the night of New Year’s Eve. As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty … your character will improve and your virtue will grow… if you realize that life is here today and is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time – so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employer and your parents. that is why I say you also fulfill the paths of loyalty and familial duty when you keep death in mind.”Bushido Shoshinshu – The Code of the Samurai, The Way of the Warrior.

Rick Rescorla 1998 interview from a 2003 film by Robert Edwards:

Rick Rescorla interviewed in 1998, from 'The Voice of the Prophet'

“Terrorist forces can tie up conventional forces, they can bring them to their knees…military power is completely secondary to national will and national morality… The whole of the world would get behind the idea that individual freedoms are important… but they will not get behind actions like Nicaragua often, where we are backing the wrong people, supporting dictators for the thought of economic stability, so foreign and domestic corporations can do business… the residue of hatred this is creating in these foreign countries… we’re doing these things and we are thinking there won’t any repercussions… Things will come home to roost, and they may be 20 years later, of cavalier actions we are taking now out there. And who is directing these cavalier actions? People in command and control that have never seen a shot fired in anger in their life, except hearing a round fired near the White House where someone is mugging a tourist outside. We can’t even straighten out our capital, in terms of crime, and we think we can go out there and be World’s top cop, It’s impossible.” – Rick Rescorla – 1998 interview in 2003 Short Film “The Voice of the Prophet”

NOTE: The film used to be visible at Atom Films, but the link no longer works and I cannot find it now. This Youtube video is a History channel clip on Rick.

re-posted from a five year anniversary post at “Divided We Stand United We Fall”


This entry was posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “A good death.”

  1. brian in the tamar valley Says:

    I live in Cornwall and am proud that Rick was one of the county’s sons. Apart from his incredible bravery and calmness while 9/11 was happening it’s worth recalling his prediction (I’ve seen the video) that terrorists would crash planes into the WTC one day. The Morgan Stanley employees that survived the atrocity will I’m sure be always grateful for the repeated emergency drills that Rick ‘inflicted’ on them. Truly he was a giant of a man in every way one can imagine.

  2. mw Says:

    Brian,
    Thanks for the comment. Good to hear from across the pond.

  3. Beverly Says:

    Rick is definitely a person to never forget. He is one of those few who have great insight and see things long before they happen. There are some really interesting quotes here.

    “If there is a lesson to be learned from 9/11 that transcends considerations of how to secure airports and borders, assess risk, protect property and lives, play politics or fight terrorists, it is a lesson that Rick Rescorla taught us that day. A lesson on how to live and how to die”. I would have liked it if you had expanded on that a bit more.

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