Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years

UPDATE: below

Six years after the terrorists killed 3000 civilians on U.S. soil, the National Review's Mark Steyn faults "the placidity of the domestic front":
Oh, it’s a long, long while from September to September. This year, the anniversary falls, for the first time, on a Tuesday morning, and perhaps some or other cable network will re-present the events in real time — the first vague breaking news in an otherwise routine morning show, the follow-up item on the second plane, and the realization that something bigger was underway. If you make it vivid enough, the JFK/Princess Di factor will kick in: You’ll remember “where you were” when you “heard the news.” But it’s harder to recreate the peculiar mood at the end of the day, when the citizens of the superpower went to bed not knowing what they’d wake up to the following morning.

Six years on, most Americans are now pretty certain what they’ll wake up to in the morning: There’ll be a thwarted terrorist plot somewhere or other — last week, it was Germany. Occasionally, one will succeed somewhere or other, on the far horizon — in Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, London. But not many folks expect to switch on the TV this Tuesday morning, as they did that Tuesday morning, and see smoke billowing from Atlanta or Phoenix or Seattle. During the IRA’s 30-year campaign, the British grew accustomed (perhaps too easily accustomed) to waking up to the news either of some prominent person’s assassination or that a couple of gran’mas and some schoolkids had been blown apart in a shopping centre. It was a terrorist war in which terrorism was almost routine. But, in the six years since President Bush declared that America was in a “war on terror,” there has been in America no terrorism.
I'll never forget the day wholesale terrorism came home. I've written about the friends I lost on 9/11 and about one of the murdered I didn't know personally: Rick Rescorla. Rescorla's story has been told before. But because his "spirit" is inspiring and worth perpetuating, the tale warrants a replay.

Rick Rescorla was an army enlisted man--twice:
He had grown up in a village on England's southwest coast and left at age sixteen to join the British military. He'd fought against Communists in Cyprus and Rhodesia. He then came to America, he said, so that he could enlist in the Army and go to Vietnam. He welcomed the opportunity to join the American cause in Southeast Asia. He worked his way up through the ranks to Sergeant before being commissioned.
As an American Army officer, Rescorla was a "(Viet Nam) war hero. He retired as a Colonel in 1990." Greyhawk takes up the tale:
Have you seen the movie We were Soldiers?

A good one, in my opinion. [NOfP note: agreed.] Given just a couple hours to tell a tale I think all in all the folks involved did a commendable job.

Perhaps it's hard to go wrong, given the source material. We Were Soldiers Once. . .And Young is an account of the battle at Ia Drang Valley, fought in the still early phases of the war in Viet Nam. The book was written by Hal Moore, who was then a Lt Col and commander of the American troops in the valley, and Joe Galloway, a reporter who was at the battle. Their collaboration is a truly human account of men at war [NOfP note: agreed.] - including the enemy viewpoint, as Galloway and Moore's efforts at capturing the battle on paper were thorough enough to include interviews with survivors from the other side.

Take a look at the cover. The prominent figure is Rick Rescorla.

source: The American Solider

As a Stars and Stripes article recounted, "During combat in Vietnam, Lt. Rick Rescorla would sing to his troops to keep their spirits high while under fire." Given his Cornwall origins, Rescorla's favorite tune shouldn't surprise: Men of Harlech, memorably sung in the movie Zulu by the British defenders at Rorke's Drift -- where a record 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded.

Rescorla was a dedicated and inspiring officer. Those who served with him in Vietnam "still tell awestruck stories about Rescorla":
Like the time he stumbled into a hooch full of enemy soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol in Bon Song. "Oh, pardon me," he said, before firing a few rounds and racing away. "Oh, comma, pardon me," repeats Dennis Deal, who followed Rescorla that day in April 1966. "Like he had walked into a ladies' tea party!"

Or the time a deranged private pulled a .45-caliber pistol on an officer while Rescorla was nearby, sharpening his bowie knife. "Rick just walked right between them and said: Put. Down. The. Gun." recalls Bill Lund, who served with Rescorla in Vietnam. "And the guy did. Then Rick went back to his knife. He was flat out the bravest man any of us ever knew."
Early this year, a Bronze statue of Rescorla was unveiled at the new National Infantry Museum in Ft. Benning, Georgia:

source: Mudville Gazette
More photos here.

After Vietnam, Rescorla:
returned to the United States and used his military benefits to study creative writing at the University of Oklahoma. Literary minded, even before college he had read all fifty-one volumes of the Harvard Classics and could recite Shakespeare and quote Churchill. He had started writing a novel about a mobile-air-cavalry unit, and had several stories published in Western-themed magazines. He eventually earned a bachelor's, a master's in literature, and a law degree.
Divorced, with two children, he married Susan Greer in February 1999. (Susan is shown at right in the above picture.) They lived in the Convent Station area of Morristown, NJ [NOfP note: I lived there as a teenager.]. By then, Rescorla focused on corporate security. He rose to become vice-president in charge of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

source: Presidential Medal of Freedom
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter is among Wall Street's largest brokerage houses. By 2001, "The company had 3,700 employees in the World Trade Center — 2,700 employees in the south tower on floors forty-four through seventy-four and 1,000 employees in Building Five across the plaza." Once there, according to friends Daniel Hill and Fred McBee:
Rick Rescorla predicted 9-11. He also predicted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. It is a matter of record. Rescorla was the Vice President for Security for Dean Witter Corporation when he foresaw the coming bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Two years before this first attack, he predicted it would be a truck bomb exploding in the unsecured basement parking area. He went to the New York/New Jersey Port Authority with his warnings and was told to "be concerned with the security of the 40 floors that Dean Witter leases from us and leave the rest to us."
Rescorla wasn't satisfied with that answer:
after being told by Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley that they could not relocate -- that their lease ran to 2005 and maybe after that the move was possible -- Rescorla planned and drilled the Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley staff and employees in the evacuation of the World Trade Center offices that they occupied.

Despite criticism and intimidation, despite ridicule and denigration, Rescorla forced his people to drill. Without warning, he’d sound an alarm and then lead the entire company through a mandatory, rapid, efficient, and safe evacuation practice. They grumbled and they griped, but they did it.

Rescorla installed generators and stair lighting in the event of power failure (which came to be). He assigned office and floor wardens to insure control and accountability of personnel and evacuating. Rescorla insisted on buddy teams – people were to go two-by-two down the stairs in an orderly and rapid manner. Rescorla made sure that elderly and handicapped persons had three or four others to assist them. And he drilled them -- over and over -- again and again -- until it became a conditioned response. As Rescorla said "like a soldier going into an anti-ambush drill."
So Rescorla and Dean Witter, in the South Tower, were as prepared as possible on September 11, 2001. The Port Authority wasn't.

The definitive Rescorla article (later expanded into a book) is James Stewart's The Real Heroes are Dead, in the February 11, 2002, New Yorker:
In St. Augustine, 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.

Rescorla "trying to clear people on the 42nd floor"
source: RickRescorla.com

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:
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!
Rescorla came back on the phone. "Pack a bag and get up here," he said. "You can be my consultant again." He added that 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." Then he said, "I got to go. Get your shit in one basket and get ready to come up."

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.

Susan tried to compose herself. She called Rick's old friend Mervyn Sullivan, in Cornwall. He'd been watching TV that afternoon when a news flash interrupted the program. "Do you know what's happening?" she asked. He told her he'd been watching CNN for the last twenty minutes. "Rick is in there," she said. "He just phoned me and said he has to stay in there and do what he can. It's so dangerous." Susan started to cry, and Sullivan tried to comfort her, saying that Rick was doing what he had to do. But then his Cornish reserve failed him, and he started crying, too.

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. "Shit," he said. "Rescorla is dead."
Hill was right -- Susan Rescorla was widowed that day.

Major Robert L. Bateman said this in Vietnam Magazine:
Rescorla would no more have left that tower before every single person was outside than I would start singing show tunes from Broadway. When he called his wife not long after the first plane hit the other tower, he told her not to worry, he was getting everyone out. . . When it appeared that everyone was out, he went back in, heading up those stairs with the rescue workers. That is where he was last seen. He was inside, being himself, when the tower came down on him.
Calling Rescorla "one of the heroes of the day," the Insurance Journal concluded:
All but seven of Morgan Stanley's 3,500 employees working at Two World Trade Center and 5 World Trade Center escaped unharmed. Nobody at the securities firm has any doubt that one person deserves all the credit for that remarkable achievement.

Two things make that statistic truly astonishing. United Airlines flight 175 flew directly into the upper floors of Morgan Stanley's offices in Two World Trade Center. Almost until the moment of the second impact, building management was announcing that the south tower was "secure" and urging occupants of the five undamaged office buildings in the complex to remain at their desks.
The Port Authority later was found liable for negligence for ignoring warnings about the 1993 terrorist bombings.

Rick's hometown of Hayle erected this magnificent monument in his honor:

source: RickRescorla.com

source: RickRescorla.com

The History Channel program on Rescorla is called The Man Who Predicted 9/11 -- it is scheduled to air today at 11pm and 4 hours later at 3am (both EDT).

As reported by Blackfive, President Bush is being urged to award Rescorla the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, honoring distinguished civilian service in peacetime. There's an online petition recommending this award, which I encourage all to sign.

According to the New York Times, America suffers from "Sept. 11 fatigue":
a weariness of reliving a day that everyone wishes had never happened. It began before the first anniversary of the terrorist attack. By now, though, many people feel that the collective commemorations, publicly staged, are excessive and vacant, even annoying.
Remembering those murdered by terrorists isn't "excessive"; celebrating the sacrifice of those like Rick Rescorla is anything but "vacant." And recalling the events of that day strengthen us and help America avoid another attack. As then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wrote in the Forward to One Nation -- America Remembers September 11, 2001 at 8-9 (Time-Life 2001):
This terrorist attack was intended to break our spirit. It has utterly failed. Our hearts are broken, but they continue to beat, and the spirit of our City has never been stronger. . ..

Now each of us has a responsibility to live our lives with the same courage embraced by those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. . .. We need to remain united -- as individuals, as Americans, and as countries committed to live in the civilized world. . ..

As we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our skyline, we should heed the words of a hymn that I heard repeatedly at the many memorial services I've attended over the past several weeks. 'Be Not Afraid.' As Americans, we need to reassert our fundamental human right to live in freedom from fear. Our nation is strong and united, and now more than ever, we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I was deeply depressed after the attacks. Then I heard this hymn at a funeral for a September 11th victim. It's called "Earth and all stars" (Episcopal: 412; Presbyterian 458; Lutheran: 438; Calvinist 433; Mennonite: 47), melody here:
Earth and all stars! loud rushing planets
sing to the Lord a new song!
Oh, victory! Loud hosts of heaven
sing to the Lord a new song!

God has done marvelous things.
I too, I too sing praises with a new song! (repeat)

Hail, wind, and rain! loud blowing snowstorm
sing to the Lord a new song!
Flowers and trees! loud rustling dry leaves
sing to the Lord a new song!..... (Refrain)

Trumpet and pipes! loud clashing cymbals
sing to the Lord a new song!
Harp, lute, and lyre! loud humming cellos
sing to the Lord a new song!..... (Refrain)

Engines and steel! loud pounding hammers
sing to the Lord a new song!
Limestone and beams! loud building workers
sing to the Lord a new song!..... (Refrain)

Knowledge and truth! loud sounding wisdom
sing to the Lord a new song!
Daughter and son! loud praising members
sing to the Lord a new song!..... (Refrain)

Words: Herbert Brokering 1964, Tune: Jan Bender.
Overwhelmed with loss at a funeral, Earth and all stars lifted my spirits like Men of Harlech inspired the 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot and Morgan Stanley. Sight-reading and singing started the turn-around. Requiescat in pace Karen, Barbara, Linda, Rick and the rest.

Six years on, I'm still an optimist. Contrary to those who would rather ignore or deny 9/11, I'm not weary. And annoyance is down since I canceled the New York Times.


Via reader Bob B., pictures of the September 11th Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery:

(including "Karen Kincaid" and "Barbara Olson")


source: NASA

original caption: This image is one of a series taken that day of metropolitan New York City by the International Space Station's Expedition 3 crew that shows the smoke plume rising from the [sic] Manhattan.


Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online:
"Remember 9/11!" once looked like it was going to be a battle cry for the ages up there with "Remember the Alamo!" Now, the only aspect of 9/11 that is acceptable on a bipartisan basis is sadness. Obviously, with that much carnage and suffering there’s a place for the sadness. But why only sadness?

If I had said in late 2001, with bodies still being pulled from the wreckage, anthrax flying through the mail, pandemonium reigning at the airports, and bombs falling on Kabul, that by ‘07 leading Democrats would be ridiculing the idea of the war on terror as a bumper sticker, I’d have been thought mad. . .

But, I’m hardly alone. The times themselves seem more than a little wacky. Imagine if a more reliably sober-minded sort — say Zbigniew Brzezinski, David Broder — prophesied six years ago that in 2007, Bin Laden would still be at-large and giving televised addresses in which he offered generous blurbs for Noam Chomsky, touted global warming, expressed disappointment with the Democratic majority in Congress and championed a flat tax so low it would make Steve Forbes blush like John Ashcroft at a Pussycat Dolls audition. Most of us would have suggested that Messrs. Brzezinski or Broder should open the window when they cook their meth. And just imagine if some similar Nostradamus of 2001 had foreseen that all of this would pale in controversy compared to the news that the rock-ribbed-conservative senior Senator from Idaho had been busted for signaling “Get out of my dreams and into my stall” in gay semaphore in a Minneapolis airport bathroom (apologies to Billy Ocean, among others). . .

This might sound unfair, but if George Bush had been a better president, John Edwards would never have dreamed of calling the war on terror nothing but a bumper sticker. As it stands right now, if any Democratic candidate other than Joe Biden or maybe Hillary Clinton (!) gets elected we will bug out of Iraq so precipitously it will be indistinguishable from abject defeat in the eyes of the world. And under any of them, the war on terror will become a glorified Elliot Spitzer style legal campaign. That is not a sign that President Bush has adequately led the country or prepared it for the struggles ahead.

It quickly became a clichĂ© that 9/11 changed everything, but when it comes to the basic divisions of the last 20 years, 9/11 didn’t change nearly enough so much as accentuate everything we knew before. And that all but guarantees we’ll have another 9/11 of which to ponder the meaning.

SC&A's timely summary:
Six years later and nothing has changed:

This nation is still the greatest nation in the history of mankind.

This nation has contributed to the deliverance of more people from oppression to freedom than any other nation in history.

This nation is home to a citizenship that enjoys more freedoms than any other nation on earth.

This nation, over all others, is the preferred destination for more people seeking freedom and opportunity than any other nation in the world.

This nation did not change on September 11, 2001. On that day, who and what we are as a nation became clear. Contrast our identity, values and morality with those who sought to harm us.

This nation does not fear vigorous debate, free speech or disagreement.

This nation does welcomes legal immigrants and offers them opportunities for success that can be found nowhere else.

This nation, home to the world’s ‘wretched refuse’ is home to the most successful immigrant classes in history.

This nation is the most multicultural nation in the world.

This nation, founded on the principles of religious freedom, continues to provide shelter for all religious expression.

This nation continues to give more foreign aid and assistance than any other nation.

This nation has contributed more to peace on earth than any other.
(via readers Doug J. and Ken R.; California Yankee)


Anonymous said...

Carl, as the Colonel would say, "Outdamnstanding." Rick Rescorla was larger than life, even before his sacrifice on 9/11. He was a model for OCS grads at Benning for decades.
And he understood, on 9/11 and before, the need to take action against our enemies.

It is altogether mete and right to remember Rick Rescorla on this day.

Carl, well done. y.o.s., DJ

Anonymous said...

Absolutely excellent! You've outdone yourself yet again Carl.
I spent some time today thinking about it. The pictures are all still so vivid. I tried to explain it to my children, they've seen the famous videos of the attacks and reminded them that tomorrow is the anniversary of that attack. You could just see the wheels turning as they try to grasp how and why someone or some group could do something so horribly evil.

On a side note, my father in law, was in that battle in the Ia Drang Valley. He, along with Rick Rescorla was one of the survivors in that bloody battle.

@nooil4pacifists said...

DJ & Powerboss:

Thank you. For some reason, this has been the toughest September 11th for me. Looking at Rescorla's last photo and the names list including Karen and Barbara (as well as Chic Burlingame) brings tears. The best antidote is -- still -- Earth and all stars: I'm singing it now.

Bob Seawright said...