By Kristin Molinaro, The bayonetSeptember 18, 2009
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The threat of rain was not enough to keep hundreds from gathering Thursday outside the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center to celebrate the unveiling of the Col. (Ret.) Rick Rescorla statue and greet the arrival of a steel I-beam from the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
"It was Rick's death that caught the attention of the media and the masses," said Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, commanding general of Fort Benning and a speaker at the event. "But it was his life - not his death - that defined him as a true hero and a great leader."
Rescorla, a Vietnam veteran and vice president of corporate security for Morgan Stanley, is credited with saving the lives of 2,700 people who worked in the WTC's Tower 2, also known as the North Tower. Seeing the first tower burn from his office on the 66th floor, he ordered employees to evacuate Tower 2 - putting to use evacuation drills he had implemented after the 1993 truck-bomb attack. Halfway down, the second plane hit Tower 2. After getting the firm's employees out of the tower, Rescorla returned to the building. He didn't make it out.
It wasn't the first time Rescorla demonstrated heroism, said his widow, Susan, who accompanied hundreds of motorcycle riders escorting the steel support beam on its four-day ride from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Fort Benning.
Rescorla served as a second lieutenant with 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, in Vietnam. The bronze statue unveiled at the ceremony was based on a Peter Arnett photo taken of Rescorla at the battle of la Drang. The photo was also on the original cover of the best-selling book We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young by Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Hal Moore and Joe Galloway.
"He strongly believed good men should defend liberty whenever and wherever it is jeopardized," Ferriter said.
The ceremony began with a performance by the Fannin County Middle School choir followed by a procession of New York City firefighters and the department's ceremonial Fire Engine No. 343.
The beam was dedicated by Paddy Concannon, a retired New York Fire Department lieutenant and founder of the Fire Family Transport Foundation, to the men and women of the U.S. Army, who've lost their lives since the attacks on 9/11, and to the Soldiers who continue to serve.
"I'm so proud to be with these men and women," Susan said. "This is something I will never forget."
After the event, the audience was encouraged to write well wishes and sign the support beam.
One signer, Jim Kelly, a former platoon leader with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, in Vietnam, met Rescorla during the war.
Kelly said they had many conversations during the war but one stuck out the most.
"We were talking about what history would say about (the Vietnam War) and Rick said, 'Jim, forget about history, we are making history,'" Kelly said. "How true it was many years later."
The statue and steel beam will be on permanent display in the spring when they are incorporated into a 9/11 memorial being constructed along Heritage Walk, said Cyndi Cerbin, director of communications for the National Infantry Museum Foundation.
"The memorial will encompass elements from each of the tragedies of that day - the twin towers, the Pentagon and the field in Shanksville, Pa.," she said.