Every year on this day, there are two people that come to mind. The first is The Falling Man.
For me, there is not a single image that captures the horror and grief of that day more vividly. It is not certain who The Falling Man was. In a way, it really doesn’t matter. His last moments serve as a memorial to all the victims of that day and the loved ones they left behind. For me, The Falling Man represents what happened to us on September 11, 2001. What was done to us.
The second person I remember every year is Rick Rescorla. If you’ve ever read the book “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” by Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway, Rick’s picture is on its cover.
2LT Rick Rescorla in the Ia Drang Valley, 1965
On September 11, 2001, Rick Rescorla was vice-president in charge of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. His office was on the 44th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. Every year, I go to the Mudville Gazette and read Greyhawk’s fantastic post about this brave warrior who never in his life shrank from danger, always marching to the sound of the guns, inspiring and leading his troops and later, his charges, to safety.
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.
Hill could hear Rescorla issuing orders through the bullhorn. He was calm and collected, never raising his voice. [...]
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.
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.” [...]
Rick did not make it out. Neither did two of his security officers who were at
his side. But only three other Morgan Stanley employees died when their building was obliterated.
After Rick Rescorla had seen out the other 2,600 employees of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, he went back up to try to get more out.
He went back up.
While The Falling Man represents what was done to us, Rick Rescorla represents who we are. Brave, indomitable, loyal. Undefeatable, even in death. As tens of thousands of the rotten shitbags who planned, participated in, and celebrated this cowardly act soon found out, we are a nation of Rick Rescorlas. Some of those motherfuckers are still finding out.
That’s who we are and that’s why they’ll never defeat us: because while these simpering little goatfuckers are sniveling in their dusty spiderholes, hiding from our wrath, there are Americans like Rescorla charging into fire, wading through the blood of the fuckheads stupid enough to protect those who started this shit, and getting us some fucking payback.
You attack America at your peril. You think you proved something? You have. You proved that we will move heaven and earth to save each other’s lives, even at the risk of our own. And you proved that there is no corner on this entire planet where you will not be eventually found and gunned down like a fucking rabid animal.