A family remembers: Hero of 9/11 gave life to save thousands

He's been called a "prophet" for being so ready for the attacks, "the Man Who Predicted 9/11" in a History Channel special, and a true American hero by countless others.

As tragic as the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was, the sky-blue day still held unexpected miracles, and Richard "Rick" Rescorla was at the center of one of the greatest -- the evacuation of financial-services behemoth Morgan Stanley.

Rescorla , a 62-year-old retired and decorated U.S. Army colonel, had focused on security at the World Trade Center for years. Prior to the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and while he was working in security for Dean Witter, he had approached the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey about security vulnerabilities in the WTC's garage. He was told to focus only on his companies' floors, according to biographer James Stewart. He did that. But, along with Dan Hill, a military buddy of his, he didn't stop thinking about security weaknesses and terrorism.

After a company merger in 1997, Rescorla became director of security at Morgan Stanley, where he maintained vigilant attention to the firm's -- and the building's -- safety. Despite disruption at the busy brokerage firm, he insisted on holding twice-yearly evacuation drills by the stairwell for the firm's 22 floors in the south tower.

The result: On Sept. 11, 2001, his team was ready.

Despite having received official instructions to stay put after the 8:46 a.m. crash next door, Rescorla told Morgan Stanley staffers to follow his evacuation plan, and he sent them two by two, as they had practiced, down the many flights of stairs. His decision and his preparation made all the difference. Although 13 employees -- including Rescorla -- perished, more than 2,500 employees left the tower alive. That's where the word "miracle" comes in. It's also where the word "hero" comes in.

According to "The New Yorker," Rescorla used his cell phone to call Hill to get updates on news footage as he directed employees by bullhorn. He was "calm and collected, never raising his voice." Then Hill heard him break into song," the article notes. He also called his wife, Susan. "If something should happen to me, I want you to know I've never been happier," he said.

A fuzzy photo of Rescorla speaking into the bullhorn exists online. He was last seen on the 10th floor -- heading upstairs.

To two young adults, Rescorla was simply known as Dad. His daughter, Kim, now 33, was in law school at Seton Hall University in Newark, New Jersey, at the time. She and her brother, Trevor, now 35, were living with their mom, Rescorla's first wife, Betsy, in Morristown, New Jersey, when the attacks occurred.

[Your story: How has September 11 changed you?]

They were not surprised that he died in the line of duty. Trevor says, "I knew he would be the last person out, because it was his command. As long as there were people in there, he would try to get them out."

"It was part of who my father was. He stayed to help evacuate the building in 1993 and would not have done anything different that day," Kim says.

Richard "Rick" Rescorla's military service has been memorialized widely -- a photo of him in battle was the cover of the 1992 book "'We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,"' and Fort Benning, Georgia, displays a statue of him.  He fought in a major battle in 1965 in Vietnam at Ia Drang, a Communist stronghold and a major supply route. He led his company in securing a defense perimeter, and after enduring waves of assault, kept his men's spirits up by leading them in singing military songs through the night.

But the title of a 2002 biography and opera debuting this weekend in San Francisco that details Rescorla's sacrifice on Sept. 11 may best define him: "Heart of a Soldier."

More from Rescorla's daughter, Kim, and son, Trevor

On witnessing and mourning his death:

Kim: "We were part of a community of those that had lost loved ones, and although each loss was unique, no loss was more poignant or devastating than any other.

"In addition, we were bombarded with images of the collapse of the towers, and I knew, as I watched the towers fall, I was also witnessing the murder of my father."

Trevor: "Every day there was something that reminded me of my father."

On how 9/11 changed them:

Kim: "[I had been] unaware of anything outside of my family, my friends, and my studies. I became cognizant of the world being a much larger place. Prior to 9/11, I could not conceive that there were people so consumed by hate and desperation that they would be capable and willing to sacrifice themselves to viciously murder people they had never met.

"I chose to focus my career in estate planning and estate administration [because] many of those that perished did so without estate-planning documents, causing administrative burdens for their families at a time of emotional turmoil."

Trevor: "I am sure that my father's background has shaped my interest in helping people. He instilled in me a sense that there is a duty to help your fellows and the perspective that we are all only a trick of fate from being in the same position [as someone else].

"He always impressed upon me the need to be my own man and follow my own path, but who he was had, and does have, a significant influence on who I am." (Trevor completed a master's degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.)

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