Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 Heroes: Touched By Fire; Bound By Courage

What can we say about 9/11 that has not been said in the last 10 years?

That question raced through my mind as I watched many of the 9/11 memorial films on television this past week. As a former Air Force medic myself, I understood why so many First-Responders including firefighters, police officers and other uniformed personnel ran toward the the raging fires and devastation that fateful day. It's what they do. It's what they are trained to do. Yet no one can deny the heroism and bravery they exhibited that tragic day was beyond the call of duty.

But we also can't lose sight of the many other heroes on that day---accountants, bankers, custodians, clerical staff, waiters, building security personnel and others. What about them?

This brings me to remind us of many of the other brave individuals like Rick Rescorla, Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz just to name a few.

Rick Rescorla was the World Trade Center Security Chief for Morgan Stanley and Dean Whitter. He served in the U.S. Army. He was the recipient of the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and The Vietnam Gallantry Medal. He took part in the battle of Ia Drang, described in the book and movie (Mel Gibson), "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young." Rescorla was described as "the best platoon leader I ever saw" by one of his men. In fact, his men had a nickname for him---"hard core." He was also known to show compassion and humor towards the men he commanded.

In 1997, Rick was named as Director of Security for Morgan Stanley, located at the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, Rescorla was covering a shift so one of his employees could go on vacation. After American Airlines Flight 11 hit Tower 1, Rescorla ignored the advice of building officials to stay in place and he began evacuating Morgan Stanley's 2,700 employees who were located on 20 floors of Tower 2 and 1,000 employees who worked at World Trade Center 5. During the evacuation, he reminded all of his employees, "be proud to be an American. Everyone will be talking about you tomorrow." He sang songs over his bullhorn to help his employees remain calm (he learned early in his military career, that music can help unite his troops). After having led many of his employees to safety, he returned to the building to help rescue others still inside. When one of his employees told him he should evacuate the building, he said, "as soon as I make sure everyone else is out." He was able to evacuate more employees. He was last seen on the 10 floor of collapsing WTC 2. His remains were never recovered. Of the 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees, 3 perished that day.

Frank De Martini was a construction manager. Pablo Ortiz was a construction inspector. Both were working on the north tower on the 88th floor on 9/11 when one of the planes hit the floors above them. Frank, known to be a "take-charge" guy, spent the next 102 minutes evacuating and looking for survivors on the 88th floor the the floors above. Pablo remained to assist Frank. The last time they were seen alive, they were continuing to go UP the staircase. Their courage and bravery resulted in the saving of 77 people. Survivors said it was the actions of both men that inspired others to help those around them escape.

On 9/11, we must never forget all the heroes on that day---heroes who were touched by fire and bound by courage.


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