He was born in Hayle, Cornwall in 1939. He enlisted in the British Army in 1957, trained as a paratrooper. After emigrating to the United States, he joined the U.S. Army in 1963, attended Officer Candidate School and upon graduation was assigned as a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore. It was in that capacity that he served with distinction at the Battle of Ia Drang, between November 14 and November 18, 1965, as related in "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young,"
by Lt. Gen. (ret) Hal Moore and Joe Galloway. His iconic photo taken by then war correspondent Joe Galloway during that battle appears on the cover of the book. Described by Hal Moore as "the best platoon leader I ever saw," his companions at Ia Drang related how he raised their morale during a critical night of the battle by leading cheers and singing Cornish battle songs.
Rescorla's Vietnam honors included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Yet he rarely spoke about Vietnam, and when he received a copy of "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young," with his picture on the cover, he set it aside and never read it. "The real heroes are dead," he told his wife, Susan.
On September 11, 2001, Rick Rescorla was Vice President of Security for Morgan-Stanley/Dean-Witter, stationed at its headquarters in the World Trade Center. There he gave his last full measure of devotion to his adopted nation. The last years and hours of his life are related in a heart-rending narrative by James Stewart, "The Real Heroes Are Dead, a love story" published in the New Yorker in February 2002.
Recorla had predicted that the twin towers would be the target of a second attack by Islamist terrorists, and had prepared for it. On September 11, the frequent evacuation drills he had imposed on the Morgan-Stanley/Dean-Witter employees paid off, as under his direction over 2700 employees safely made their way down the fire escape stairwells of the south tower of the World Trade Center. From his post in the south tower, Rescorla also oversaw the evacuation of another 1000 Morgan Stanley employees from WTC5.
When an old army buddy, Dan Hill, reached him by cell phone during the evacuation, he could be heard calmly and collectively barking orders through a bullhorn. He exhorted his fellow employees to "...be proud to be an American ...everyone will be talking about you tomorrow". He then burst 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!
In his last cell phone call with his wife Susan, he told her, ”Stop crying. 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.” After evacuating the employees from the south tower, he took his security team back into the tower to make one last sweep, to make sure everyone had safely escaped. When one of his colleagues told him he too had to evacuate the World Trade Center, Rescorla replied, "As soon as I make sure everyone else is out". He was last seen alive on the 10th floor, moving upward, shortly before the south tower collapsed.
Every year, on March 25, Medal of Honor Day, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, a society of the some 100 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, selects three civilians to receive the Above and Beyond Medal.
In this manner, those of our living veterans who most exemplify the ideals of courage, sacrifice, integrity, patriotism, commitment and citizenship associated with the Medal of Honor itself, continue to give to our country by recognizing those qualities in civilian life. On March 25, 2009, in a ceremony before the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Rick Rescorla
posthumously received the Above and Beyond Medal.