August 7 marks Purple Heart Day, commemorating the establishment of the Badge of Military Merit by George Washington in 1782. Following September 11, 2001, all members of the U.S. Armed Forces killed or wounded in the terrorist attacks were awarded the Purple Heart, a medal awarded to those who are wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military. Examples of those courageous men and women honored on the 9/11 Memorial include Lieutenant General Timothy J. Maude, the highest ranking active U.S. military officer killed at the Pentagon on 9/11 and Richard Cyril Rescorla, a remarkable veteran from the Vietnam War.
According to a memorial website created by his wife, Rescorla served one tour in Vietnam, earning a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and Bronze Stars for Valor and Meritorious Service. However, his dedication to the safety of others did not halt when he returned from Vietnam and transitioned into civilian life.
On 9/11, Rescorla was vice president of security for Morgan Stanley at their headquarters in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He is remembered for his emergency preparedness drills. On 9/11, he led a massive but well-organized evacuation of Morgan Stanley’s more than 2,500 employees, singing songs like “God Bless America” to keep his colleagues focused and moving downward. He was last seen walking back up the stairs of the South Tower to search for anyone left behind and was killed when the building collapsed. It was later determined that all but 13 of Morgan Stanley's work force at the World Trade Center had survived.
Rescorla’s courageous actions epitomize one of many heroic exploits on 9/11, some known and others unrecorded. His military identification tag from his service in Vietnam is part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum collection. His story has been recounted in the book, "Heart of a Soldier" by James B. Stewart and through the Rick Rescorla National Award for Resilience, presented annually by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
On Purple Heart Day 2015, the 9/11 Memorial honors all recipients of this prestigious military badge of merit.
By Christine Murphy, 9/11 Memorial Administration/Researcher