Heart of a Hero

            Memorial Day on May 27 was a day draped in sunshine and soft breezes – a perfect day for school bands, flags waving, and the collective memory of a grateful nation.

            Orchestrating the event for the Town of Marion Memorial Day Committee was Donna Hemphill, whose organizational skills kept the more than hour-long program moving along succinctly.

            The invocation reminded us, “because they served, we are safe today.” Bishop Orlando Harris of the Marion Community Baptist Church implored all to stay together as a country and a people “in love, harmony, and peace.”

            Old Rochester Regional Junior High student Brianne Lynch sang a lovely pitch-perfect rendition of God Bless America, and ORRJHS students Lauryn Pallatroni and Alanna Fitzpatrick read the Gettysburg Address and Flanders Field, respectively. Marion resident Samuel Converse read the governor’s proclamation.

            Musical interludes by the Sippican Elementary School Band under the direction of Hannah Moore added just the right patriotic touches as they played the Star Spangled Banner and You’re a Grand Ole Flag.

            Before stepping off from the Music Hall in parade formation to The Landing where military memorials were decorated with red, white, and blue flowers, Master of Ceremony Captain Andrew Bonney of the Massachusetts Air National Guard asked all to remember the meaning of Memorial Day before he introduced the Portuguese American Band from New Bedford who played God Bless America and I’m Proud To Be An American. This was followed by Boy Scout Troop 32 and Daisey Troops 67047 and 67041 leading the community in the Pledge of Allegiance.

            As the school children lead the parade towards The Landing, onlookers fell in behind the two bands and the VFW color guard.

            Although the VFW Benjamin D. Cushing Post #2425 has disbanded, former members Casey Barros, Ronald Barros, Demi Barros, Douglas Thatcher, and Allan Hunter were in uniform and continue to participate in events where former military personnel’s presence is a reminder to us all that “we should not forget.”

            The keynote speaker for the day was Professor James Holmes, Ph.D. from the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Holmes’ speech brought to life the sacrifices and heroic deeds of one Cyril Richard Rescorla, known to all as Rick.

            Rescorla was born in the U.K. and emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1950’s due in part by his esteem of the American military. He enlisted in the 7th Calvary and, before long, earned not only rank, but the trust and admiration of his fellow officers and soldiers under his command.

            In Vietnam, Rescorla participated in heavy fighting in the Battle of la Drung, an event that would later become the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, and a movie, We Were Soldiers. His command of troops, his morale building singing, his unwavering steel in the face of overwhelming odds, earned him a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.

            Holmes reported that after the war, Rescorla returned to the U.S. and settled into a conventional life of marriage and work. He became the security director for Morgan Stanley located in the South Tower at the World Trade Center.

            During his tenure, he pleaded with the CEOs and CFOs of the company to move the nearly 3,000 employees they had working at that location. He believed, and it later came to pass, that terrorists would attempt to take down the towers with truck bombs. Even after that attempt was made, Rescorla’s warnings were not heeded. Apparently, the lease had not run its course.

            Rescorla devised an evacuation plan for the employees, Holmes continued, and forced them to practice much to the moaning of the staff and the supervisors. But when 9-11 happened, when horror, confusion, and death came thundering down upon the people in the South Tower, Rescorla maintained his composure and implemented the evacuation.

            “As he had half a lifetime ago, Rescorla would stand up and face danger – never yielding,” said Holmes.

            Through his effort and by his direction, 2,500 Morgan Stanley employees were saved. As Rescorla sang God Bless America to the scared men and women stepping as quickly as possible down all those flights of stairs out to the street, he never wavered.

            Holmes’ telling of Rescorla’s life was straightforward, as if giving his audience instructions on how to be a brave soldier. But it was clearly a story he felt compelled to share. It was the perfect example of a soldier who gave the best he had to give – himself.

            “He went back in up to the 10th floor,” Holmes said. “He ignored orders to stay in place and systematically ordered employees to get out.”

            Rescorla never came back from his final ascent up those stairs to rescue others, but many survived because of his actions. In those final minutes before the South Tower collapsed, Holmes said, “He called his wife. He said he’d get out after he got his people out, and told her, ‘You made my life.’

            “He set a good example by his boundless acts of good cheer and by his courage,” said Holmes. “May we live up to his example.”

By Marilou Newell

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