Sunday, September 2, 2012

Making It Happen

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Had Rick Rescorla not existed and had Hollywood created him as an action hero, cynics might have accused the writers of having suspended the laws of credulity.  But he did.  And the things he did while he lived - including but by no means limited to the final morning of his life - were nothing short of incredible.  If you have ever read, "When We Were Soldiers....and We Were Young" by General Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway (which you should) or at least looked at its cover you have read and seen a much-younger iteration of Rescorla as a member of the 7th Cavalry at the battle of the la Drang in Vietnam in 1965.   If you cannot be persuaded to read the book, then at the very least watch the movie that was made from the book, starring pre-crazy Mel Gibson as Hal Moore.   And while you are exercising your mind muscle, read "Heart of a Soldier" written by James Stewart, which dealt not only with the public side of Rescorla but quite poignantly with his private side, including his relationship with his wife Susan who had met, fell in love with and married in what proved to be the final few years of his life.  It is a beautiful story and you can read an excerpt from it here.

Rescorla's final gig was as Vice President of Security for Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter, which had approximately 2700 employees in the World Trade Center.  When the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993, Rescorla was there and was apparently so appalled by - and so frightened by - the panicked manner in which the Morgan Stanley personnel responded to the crisis that he instituted evacuation protocols to be followed in the event of an emergency, including but not limited to another terrorist attack.  His employer's space in the World Trade Center covered twenty floors and in the years between the first WTC attack and the one that destroyed the complex in 2001, Rescorla made Morgan Stanley employees drill relentlessly.  If (or as he believed when) the next attack came, the people whose safety was entrusted to him would be better prepared.

Rick Rescorla was a soldier, a hero and a leader of people.  He was - of course - not a one-man gang.  On September 11, 2001 under his remarkable stewardship only six of Morgan Stanley's 2700 employees died.  Rescorla was one of them.  Three of the remaining five were his "guys".   Three men who showed the same remarkable bravery, courage and selflessness as he did in returning with him to the south tower to locate the "stragglers" who had not yet made it to safety. 

Godwin Forde was one of the three men who went with Rescorla back into the south tower.  Forde did not even work for Morgan Stanley.  He was a security guard for one of the Center's other tenants - Merrill Lynch.   Forde, 39 years of age, had worked for Merrill Lynch in the south tower since 1999. 

Roughly ten years before his death, Forde had left his home in London to move to Brooklyn where he lived with his sister in an apartment in Flatbush.  He left behind in London three children - including his then-eight-year-old daughter Charlene.  Father and daughter reunited only ten days before he died.  Charlene had opted to move to the United States to live with her dad in Brooklyn.  He picked her up at Kennedy Airport on September 2, 2001 and quipped about the amount of catching up they had to do.  Neither could have suspected that they had so little time in which to do it

Jorge Velasquez is the third man in what has become yet another iconic photo of September 11.  He is the man in the middle of the photo standing between Rick Rescorla (bullhorn in hand) and Godwin Forde.   Forde's back is to the camera but the placid expression on the faces of both Rescorla and Velasquez makes it appear as if the photog snapped a picture of Rescorla calling at Morgan Stanley's weekly bingo game.  

Jorge Velasquez was forty-seven years old at the time of his death in September 2001.  He and his wife Consuelo had purchased a home in Passaic NJ shortly before he died and to make ends meet he had taken on a second job as a security guard in addition to his full-time position as a security specialist for Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center.  He was not a man of means or wealth.  Yet he and his wife were blessed by a generous spirit and fueled by a desire to do what they could to help those who were less fortunate than themselves.  To that end a Saturday tradition in the Velasquez home was the preparation of enormous pots of beans and rice and stew.  The pots of hot food would then be loaded into the Velasquez car - along with the couple and their four children - and the family would drive all over to ladle out hot meals to those in need.   Samuel Johnson wrote, "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who does him absolutely no good."  Having never met Jorge Velasquez, the precision with which Johnson described him strikes me as uncanny.

Rick Rescorla's #2 at Morgan Stanley (a desigation appropriate if for no other reason it recognizes the amount of deep sh*t they made it through together) was Wesley Mercer.   At age 70, one might have thought that Mercer would have been retired or at least contemplating it.  Instead this decorated war veteran (he served in Korea and in Vietnam) was doing what he did best:  helping keep others safe and out of harm's way.  He was described as a "quiet man" and a man who "always took charge", reinforcing the fact that true leadership is more a measure of depth than of volume. 

Mercer was survived not only by his daughter Linda but by his life partner, William Randolph.  The couple lived in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood in Harlem.   Candidly, information on Wesley Mercer is a bit hard to come by - at least it was for a man of my limited skills.  One of the items I did find was a short video clip of a man I presume to be Mr. Randolph being interviewed while he was at Ground Zero a few days after September 11 looking for Mr. Mercer.  Wesley Mercer had two daughters, Linda and Jennifer.  Approximately a decade before his own death he had lived through every parent's worst nightmare when Jennifer died.    It would be easier perhaps if tragedy would adhere to the rules governing lightning and not strike in the same place more than once. 

If only....

....Since 911 we're still livin'
And lovin' life we've been given
Ain't nothing gonna take that away from us
Were lookin' pretty and gritty 'cause in the city we trust
Dear New York I know a lot has changed
2 towers down but you're still in the game


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