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A hero's death

This week's New Yorker tells the story of Rick Rescorla (also the topic of this also lengthy but online article from the Washington Post of October 28), who had a rather remarkable career as a soldier in the Vietnam War and was Morgan Stanley's vice president for corporate security until he died on September 11.

Rescorla was considered by many of his colleagues to have been a hero for his actions in Vietnam, but he felt differently. "The real heroes are dead," he said — a remark that is no doubt more an indication of his definition of the term than of any observation he had made. He was also in weakening physical health, suffering not only from cancer but from the treatment regimen he was following to fight it. (There is a picture of him accompanying the Post article; from what I understand the extra weight he carried was almost entirely a symptom of his treatments.)

Rescorla died after he had successfully evacuated the Morgan Stanley offices in the World Trade Center. He remained in the building to make sure no one had been left behind, and was still inside when the building collapsed. A quote from a lifelong friend, Dan Hill (who also figures prominently in the Post article), concludes the New Yorker's piece:

"People like Rick, they don't die old men. They aren't destined for that and it isn't right for them to do so. It just isn't right, by God, for them to become feeble, old, and helpless sons of bitches. There are certain men born in this world, and they're supposed to die setting an example for the rest of the weak bastards we're surrounded with."

The dying part is extreme (there are other ways to express your willingness to sacrifice yourself for what you believe is right), but I think that, otherwise, this is exactly right. Hill (a former soldier, like Rescorla) no doubt is reflecting on physical frailty, but his words carry a broader significance: Certain strengths are unbearable to lose, or to see lost. Amen.

February 6, 2002 6:25 PM

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