On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I recommend that you read (or re-read) the 2002 New Yorker story by James B. Stewart called, “The Real Heroes Are Dead.”
It’s about an English-born Vietnam veteran named Rick Rescorla, who became the director of security for Morgan Stanley, a financial firm based in the World Trade Center. After the 1993 truck bombing of the Trade Center, he predicted that the next attack would come by air, so when the first plane struck on Sept. 11, 2001, he successfully evacuated close to 2,700 of Morgan Stanley’s employees from the WTC despite orders to stay in the building. Sometimes he sang to the evacuees, the way he did to troops in Vietnam. When he went back to look for stragglers, he was killed in the collapse of the towers. His remains were never found.
Stewart’s story became a book called Heart of a Soldier. Rescorla’s widow, Susan Rescorla, also wrote a book called Touched By a Hero. Stewart reported Rescorla’s last conversation with Susan:
“‘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.'”
Rescorla had appeared in books before 9/11. His Vietnam experiences feature in the 1992 book about the Battle of Ia Drang, We Were Soldiers Once … and Young by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. The original version of the book bore Rescorla’s photo on the cover. (There’s more information on Rescorla in Vietnam — and before that, as a British commando in what was then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) — in Michael Grunwald’s 2001 Washington Post story, “A Tower of Courage.”)
Rescorla gave interviews to Moore, his Vietnam commander, for We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, but he never read the finished version nor did he see the movie based on the book. As Stewart wrote, Rescorla told Susan that, as a war survivor, he didn’t like being portrayed as a hero. The title of Stewart’s 9/11 story came from what Rescorla told Susan about Vietnam:
“The real heroes are dead.”
The man was too modest. Thankfully, there are heroes walking among us. There are also those who are trying desperately to cling to the role, such as Rudy Giuliani, who was New York City’s mayor at the time of the attacks.
For a brief, crucial time during and after 9/11, Giuliani showed courage and decisiveness when both were needed.
Since then, he has sought to make a career out of that image.
The way Giuliani normally refers to 9/11 reminds me of a 2007 Family Guy episode in which Lois runs for mayor. Actually, this whole debate scene is so reminiscent of this year’s real-life presidential campaign that I’ve transcribed it for you.
Brian the talking dog: Lois, undecided voters are the biggest idiots on the planet. Try giving short,simple answers.
Reporter: Sir, your question, please?
Debate attendee: Mrs. Griffin, what do you plan to do about crime in our city?
Lois: A lot.
Lois: Because that’s what Jesus wants.
Lois: 9/11 was bad.
Debate attendee: I agree with that.
Lois: God, I can’t believe how easy this is.
Debate attendee: Mrs. Griffin, what are your plans for cleaning up our environment?
Debate attendee: Mrs. Griffin, what about our traffic problem?
[LONG PAUSE, GASPS FROM THE CROWD]
Anyway, back to Giuliani: I was among the many people dumbfounded by the speech he gave while stumping for Donald Trump last month. It included this statement, in which he seemed to forget 9/11 ever happened:
“By the way, under those eight years before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States. They all started when Clinton and Obama got into office.”
NPR said, “For a man once accused of forming every sentence with a noun, a verb and 9/11, it was a serious omission.” Not to mention the fact that Republican George W. Bush — not Bill Clinton or Barack Obama — was president at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
Embed from Getty Images
It turned out that that particular portion of the speech was taken out of context. As Snopes and Politifact both pointed out, Giuliani did speak at length about 9/11 at the beginning of his speech. (That’s how we can tell it’s him and not an imposter!) What he meant to say was that after 9/11 — for the nearly eight remaining years of the Bush administration — we didn’t have any additional attacks.
Well, Politifact takes issue with that hair-splitting logic here. While there was nothing (thankfully) on the scale of 9/11:
“Since then, there have been four successful plots on U.S. soil that were declared by the FBI to be terrorist attacks or whose perpetrators claimed to be motivated by ideology or anti-U.S. sentiments. Reasonable people can disagree over the definition of jihad-inspired terrorism, but Giuliani is taking things too far by omitting all of them.”
Politifact’s count of four doesn’t even include the thwarted 2001 shoe bomber attempt and the 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks. If you weren’t around or too young to remember the latter, the word “hysteria” covers it nicely. As for the former, you’re still taking off your shoes in the airport because of it. (Politifact also compiled a list of the terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets on foreign soil from 2001 to 2009.)
Of course, as a result of that really big attack that Giuliani wasn’t exactly counting just this once, we went to war in Iraq in 2003 — a war that presidential candidates are still debating 13 years later. In light of that, it’s interesting to learn about the six pages of handwritten notes that Ari Fleischer, Bush’s former press secretary, took immediately after the 9/11 attacks and released for the 15th anniversary.. War was the immediate, high-testosterone response. As the Independent reported (censored word is theirs, not mine):
Telephoning his Vice President Dick Cheney from Air Force One, [Bush] said: ‘We’re going to get the b******s. We’re at war.’
We’ve been at war ever since and, now, the entire world is struggling to cope with terrorist attacks and floods of refugees from war-torn areas. Therefore, while I acknowledge the fine point that Giuliani was attempting to make, I’m doing that in the style of Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones.
Speaking of refugees, I have more recommended reading. A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a helpful article explaining why the civil war in Syria seems to get worse instead of better. (A major factor, writes Max Fisher, is the participation of multiple foreign powers.)
For my personal experiences on 9/11, here are links to my previous memorial posts, from oldest to most recent. As some of you may recall, I worked across the street from the World Trade Center in what was then called the World Financial Center:
- 2007: September 11 Is Here Again.
- 2008: 9/14/01, Laughing While Crying, and The Prodigal Bumpe Returns
- 2009: Three Old Posts and a Little Story
- 2010: Thoughts on 9/11: The Devil Is in the Details
- 2011: “I Thought Everybody Else Was Lost,” 10 Years Later: “Essential Acts of Witness,” and 10 Years Later: The Weak Horse.
- 2012 and 2013: Both years I simply linked to my previous posts.
- 2014: September 11: The Thirteenth Anniversary
- 2015: Fourteen Years, and Marcy Borders
Finally, I was sure I had already posted this photo of the Twin Towers, but I haven’t been able to find it on the blog.
The picture was taken less than two months before 9/11 from the TribecaRooftop, on the day MrB and I got married. We got the finished wedding album from the photographer late that year and, when I came to this image, I forgot to breathe for a moment.
Nancy DaQ says
Damn Wendy, that story has me weeping, but thanks for posting it. My husband served in the Special Forces in Vietnam and grew up in NJ. I guess you could say it came uncomfortably close to home. But, the article also made me understand some things about him as well so that’s good. God bless.
Thanks for reading. Much love!
The story about Mr. Rescorla is devastating. He was a true hero (a word that we over-use these days). And it made me remember Representative Barbara Lee, the ONLY member of Congress to vote against the AUMF that started the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The only person that stood up and said that the AUMF was too broad and that wound up allowing the U.S.to commit acts that were “the evil that we deplore”. Thank you, again, for this post.
Thank you for reading!
Read your 9/11 posts again. Thank you.
Thank you for reading!