Monday, September 11, 2006

A good death.

Rick Rescorla interviewed in 1998, from 'The Voice of the Prophet'
On the occasion of the five year anniversary of 9/11, we digress from the politics of the day, with a short meditation on the death and remarkable life of Rick Rescorla. Much has already been written about Rick Rescorla, by authors, journalists, documentarians, 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 five years ago.

If there is a lesson to be learned from 9/11 that transcends tactical considerations of how to secure borders, assess risk, protect property, 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.

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."
Rick Rescorla, from a conversation with Dan Hill - April 2001:
"None of us should have had to go through this, we should have died performing some great deed or in some desperate battle, you know, go out in a blaze of glory, not end up with somebody spoon feeding us and changing our nappy."
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 at Ia DrangIa Drang Valley, Vietnam - November 14, 1965
"... during the periods of silence he encouraged talk between the foxholes to ease the tension. When all elses 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." It was a voice straight from Waterloo, from the Somme, implacable, impeccable, impossible to disobey. His men forgot their fear, concentrated on his orders and marched forward as he led them straight into the pages of history."
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."
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.
Rick Rescorla in the South tower of WTC minutes before it collapsed
Stairwell, South Tower, World Trade Center, New York - September 11, 2001
"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..."
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
The Way of the Warrior
"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

Excerpts from 1998 Rick Rescorla interview for "Voice of the Prophet":
"The interview was conducted by filmmaker Robert Edwards, whose father fought alongside Rescorla in Vietnam's battle of Ia Drang. The interview grew out of a proposed documentary about the nature of warfare that was never completed; it sat unseen until after the September 11 attack."

"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
Susan Rescorla's Memorial Website
UPDATE: 9/11/2013
On the 12 year anniversary of 9/11, on the day after President Obama's speech calling for potential U.S. military action in yet another Mideast war,   I decided to revisit and refresh this post. I did not change any content, but most of the links from this original post were broken. I found alternative links to source some of the quotes and deleted the rest. The primary source for most of these quotes are from the extraordinary James B. Stewart New Yorker article "The Real Heroes are Dead.", later expanded into the book Heart of a Soldier.

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