Badass of the Week.

Rick Rescorla

"My God, it was like Little Big Horn.  We were all cowering in the bottom of our foxholes, expecting to get overrun.  Rescorla gave us courage to face the coming dawn.  He looked me in the eye and said, 'When the sun comes up, we're gonna kick some ass.'"

From both a military and a civilian capacity, it's hard to argue with the statement that Rick Rescorla is one of the greatest heroes in modern American history.  This is pretty damn impressive, especially considering that he was British and everything.

Cyril Richard Rescorla was born in Cornwall, on the southwest tip of England, in 1939.  A rugby star and high school shot put champion growing up, it soon became apparent that the whole book-learning thing really wasn't as appealing to young Rick as a good old-fashioned ass-whipping was.  So as soon as this adventure-hungry athlete turned 16 he quit school, joined the British military, and dedicated the majority of his life to pummeling the ever-loving cock-and-balls off of Communist douchebags wherever he could find them.

Rescorla's first deployment in Her Majesty's Service was as a Military Intelligence officer on the island of Cyprus, where he spent the period from 1957 to 1960 digging up intel on Communist activities and doing a bunch of other presumably-badass clandestine shit that I wasn't able to dig much info up about.  After that ended, he transferred to British Rhodesia in 1960, where he spent the next three years running through the bush with an assault rifle battling Communists in Angola and Zimbabwe as a member of the British South African Police.  Serving as a military policeman in a brutal conflict between British-backed South African security forces and Soviet-sponsored Commie pinko bastards, Rescorla proved himself a capable warrior, a natural leader, and a hardcore battering ram of a human being, and he gained valuable combat experience putting his spit-shined shoes and an Enfield rifle straight up the asses of anyone who didn't think that Karl Marx was a fucking jackass in the first place.

After transferring out of Rhodesia in 1963, Rick Rescorla suddenly found himself in something of a dilemma:  He'd run out of asses to kick.  This was only a temporary problem, however, because even though there was a short lull in the seemingly-never-ending British blood feud with the forces of Marxism, (according to him, Britain was simply "fresh out of wars to fight"), Rick Rescorla went out and did the rational thing, which was of course to move to the United States and enlist in the American army so that he could fucking ship out to Southeast Asia and fight in the goddamned Vietnam War.

Now think about this shit for a second.  Vietnam is one of the most horrifically brutal conflicts the United States has ever been involved in.  Thousands of good men died in the blood-soaked jungles of 'Nam, battling a cunning enemy in miserable conditions in a conflict that was largely unsupported by civilians on the home front.  Many people in the States – actual native-born Americans – were burning their draft cards and bras and a bunch of other random flammable shit and then running away to Canada to listen to Hippie music just so that they could avoid having to go over there and get their balls blown off by bouncing betty mines, yet here Rick Rescorla was, voluntarily transferring his national allegiance solely for the purposes of serving as an infantry officer in a war where the average life expectancy for a new Lieutenant on combat patrol was about 16 minutes.

Rescorla was on the ground at the very beginning of the Vietnam Shitstorm, and as a platoon leader in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Division, he ended up participating in the first major American battle in 'Nam – the bloody Battle of Ia Drang in November of 1965.  While serving in the same Regiment that used to belong to George Armstrong Custer (and the same Division as the fictional Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now), Rescorla found himself in a desperate position, fighting over a small chunk of ground about 10 miles from the Cambodian Border.  The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cav had been manning a defensive line when suddenly, in the middle of the night, they found themselves face-to-face with three full regiments of crack North Vietnamese Army soldiers.  The NVA troops launched a massive assault at the entire battalion line, badly mauling C Company over the course of the evening.  Rescorla was in B Company, which had managed to hold the line despite being badly outnumbered, but now he and his already-exhausted soldiers were called over to reinforce the weakened position once held by C Company.

Now, Rick Rescorla was a lifelong soldier, and while many of his men were seeing their first live-fire combat action and were dangerously close to losing their shit, this guy was already an old pro, and he knew how to handle frightened soldiers.  Belting out traditional Cornish folk songs in his mighty British accent, Rescorla personally got out there to dig foxholes, clear the brush to establish firing lanes, and reinforced the defensive perimeter like he was out pulling fucking dandelions from his garden back home.  His men were encouraged by the sight, and that night, when the 100 men of B Company were bum-rush attacked by over 2,000 NVA soldiers, Rescorla kept singing, inspiring his exhausted men to hold off four separate large-scale assaults between 4 and 6am.  Then, as if beating down a 20-to-1 onslaught of AK-47 wielding hardened troops wasn't enough, once the sun came up Rick Rescorla, who by this point was Jack Bauer-ing it on 48 hours of non-stop fighting without sleep, personally rallied his men led a goddamned bayonet charge that drove off the last remnants of the enemy troops.  Calling out orders like he was fucking Wellington at Waterloo, this guy kept his men in formation to "charge bayonets", and, after the attack drove the enemy out of the position, he went on to single-handedly wipe out a machine gun nest with a grenade in just for good measure (chucking grenades, incidentally, isn't much different than hefting a shot put).

The image of Rescorla advancing with bayonet was used as the cover
of We Were Soldiers Once.. And Young

But staring down three Regiments with a single Company and killing over 200 of the enemy while losing just 6 men wounded from his own unit wasn't the only fighting Rescorla would see during Ia Drang.  As he and his worn-out troops were being evacuated from their positions by helicopter, riding off into the sunset like the end of Contra, Rescorla got the word that the main body of the battalion was being hit hard by a night attack ambush.  This guy wasn't about to let that shit go down – he ordered his chopper pilot to get right into the middle of the clusterfuck and drop him off so he could commence shit-kicking immediately.

The pilot circled around, Rescorla and the men in his bird jumped the 10 feet to the ground amid a swirling cross-fire of machine gun and mortar fire, and ten minutes later the British-American Lieutenant was seen casually sauntering up to the American foxholes holding an M79 Grenade Launcher in one hand and an M-16 assault rifle in the other.  From what I understand, this is a man who loved the smell of napalm in the morning.

Rescorla fought off the attack, then captured a French bugle from a dead NVA officer.
He didn't officially become a U.S. citizen until 2 years after the battle.

According to Hal Moore, the Vietnam vet author of We Were Soldiers, Rescorla was, "the greatest platoon commander I have ever seen," but it was the crazy stories about this guy that really made him a semi-mythical entity among the American troops.  I mean, the fucking guy's call sign was "Hard Corps One-Six," for crying out loud.  This is a man who would be out there running laps barefoot every morning, and allegedly the soles of his feet were so toughened up from this regimen that he could put a campfire out by stepping on it.  There are stories of him walking into an NVA foxhole, seeing a bunch of enemy officers, and calmly saying, "Oh, pardon me," before smoking the room with machine gun fire.  Another tale has some Private flipping out Vincent D'Onofrio style and pulling a .45 on his commanding officer, and Rescorla (who was sharpening his Bowie knife at the time) just got up, walked right over to the guy, and just said, "Put.  The gun.  Down."  The dude did, and Rescorla went back to sharpening his knife.

After serving as a platoon leader, Rescorla became a recon scout for the battalion.  Basically, him and three other dudes would run around the wilderness scouting ahead, looking for ambushes, minefields, and other horrible shit, and then if they didn't accidentally fall into the trap they'd come back and report.  This wasn't easy (duh), but Rescorla was so good at it that he ended up teaching classes in reconnaissance and guerilla warfare at Fort Benning.  Also, he survived the war, which should also give you an indication of how hardcore this dude was.

"I knew him as a hundred-and-eighty-pound, six-foot-one piece of human machinery that would not quit, that did not know defeat, that would not back off one inch.  In the middle of the greatest battle of Vietnam, he was singing to the troops, saying we’re going to rip them a new asshole, when everyone else was worrying about dying."

Hard Corps One-Six left 'Nam with a Silver Star and a Bronze Star, got a law degree in Oklahoma, taught Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina, and retired from the Army reserve in 1990 with the rank of Colonel.  He later got a job as director of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, where he was tasked with ensuring employee safety for one of the world's largest financial institutions.

Rick Rescorla died almost exactly 10 years ago today.  He was at his post on the 44th floor of World Trade Center Tower 1 on September 11, 2001, when a psychotic madman flew a passenger airliner into the building.  When the Port Authority came over the loudspeaker in the building and ordered everyone inside to stay put, Rescorla muttered "Bugger that Blimy Poppycock" (or something equally British) under his breath, and flipped his brain right back into Commanding Officer mode.  It wasn't his first time dealing with a terrorist attack on his place of employment – in 1993, when a truck bomb went off in the basement of the Tower, Rescorla had evacuated his offices, helping everyone out until he was the last man to leave the building – and he wasn't taking any chances this time either.  He grabbed a bullhorn and personally ran up and down the 22 floors that encompassed Morgan Stanley Dean Witter headquarters, quickly and calmly getting everyone out of their cubes and down the stairs.  Rushing up and down the building despite the fact that he was 62 years old and dying from terminal bone marrow cancer, Rescorla didn't even consider slowing down until all 2,700 of his co-workers were safely out of the burning building.  When he saw how terrified the men and women he worked with were, he went back to his old standby of singing British folk songs to try and cheer them up.

He was last seen on the tenth floor of the World Trade Center, headed up.  Of the 2,700 people he had been charged with protecting, all but 6 survived the terrorist attack.

"Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming;
Can't you see their spearpoints gleaming?
See their warriors' pennants streaming
To this battlefield.

Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready;
Stand and never yield!"



New Yorker



Moore, Hal and Joseph L. Galloway. We Were Soldiers Once – and Young. Random House, 1992.

Smelt, Maurice. 101 Cornish Lives. Alison Hodge, 2006.


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