Fort Benning recognizes victims of Sept. 11 attacks

benw@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 2, 2011 

A Columbus police officer, who volunteered at ground zero after two high-jacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center 10 years ago, expressed sadness Thursday after joining other public safety workers to place a wreath near a salvaged tower beam.

“It is extremely sad, but I’m glad to see that we are putting in the time and effort to recognize the sacrifice made by all the firefighters, police officers and the citizens that were in the towers who lost their lives,” said officer J.R. Goodrich, a deputy with the Russell County Sheriff’s Office at the time.

A decade after the terrorist attacks on America, Goodrich and officials from Fort Benning, Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office placed a wreath near a 12-foot beam pulled from collapsed Tower 2 of the World Trade Center in New York City. Maj. Gen. Robert Brown recognized victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the same day 209 soldiers from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 46 Infantry Regiment graduated from basic training at the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center.

During his two days at ground zero, where the 110-story towers collapsed, Goodrich said it was an eye-opening experience as a 20-year-old using a bucket and shovel to sift through debris.

“We looked for items that may be of evidence,” he said. “If there was a potential victim, we try to do what we could to clear away the debris to get there. I think the thing that stands out the most is how much people from all over the country came together to help out. There were people from all across the country, working for hours and hours and hours.”

Brown, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, said the young soldiers on the parade field showed honor, respect, integrity and courage, the same values that former Fort Benning soldier Rick Rescorla displayed on the day of the attacks. A retired colonel and graduate of Fort Benning’s Officer Candidate School, he is credited with saving nearly 3,700 Morgan Stanley employees before he died in the the first tower collapse.

Rescorla, a veteran of the Vietnam War, survived the battle of Ia Drang, and he’s the soldier on the cover of the book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young,” written by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway.

On the day of the attacks, Rescorla was working as security chief for financial services firm Morgan Stanley when he refused to leave the building.

“His wife called him in the middle of the evacuation and begged him to get out,” Brown told hundreds at the ceremony. “He responded as you would expect a leader. He said, ‘I can’t get out. I’ve got employees that I’m worried about.’”

Nicholas D. Snider, founder and chairman of the National Foundation of Patriotism in Atlanta and who helped lead a convoy of 100 motorcyclists with the 12-foot beam presented to Fort Benning in 2009, knows why Rescorla went back inside the tower.

“Being the kind of man he was, he made the choice a hero makes: sacrifice, a thing that happens to you when you’re in the United States military,” Snider said. “You never leave a man behind.”

He was last seen heading up the stairs near the tower’s 10th floor. His body was never recovered from the site.

Rescorla went back into the building to do what is referred to as a final sweep of the battlefield, said Snider, a classmate of Rescorla while attending Officer Candidate School on post 45 years ago. “He didn’t want to leave anybody behind. The rest of that story we all know. It came down on him.”

Lives were saved because Rescorla anticipated the attacks and put Morgan Stanley employees through a series of evacuation drills.

“Again and again, he showed impeccable leadership,” Brown said. “On Sept. 11, 2001, Rescorla led thousands to safety from the World Trade Center tower.”

Pvt. Wesley Gerstenkorn, a basic training graduate, was 8 years old in Smithfield, Va., when the planes crashed into the towers. He said it’s an honor to be serving on the day of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

“I remember sitting at the television and smoke coming from the towers,” Gerstenkorn said. “I wasn’t interested in news back then. I’m kind of ashamed I thought that back then.”

Snider said he and Rescorla’s wife, Susan, are still working toward building a better America like Rescorla.

“I always ask the question, ‘Do you think we are done building America?’ So you think we are even close and if you are not participating, why not? Those are the things we need to understand what 9/11 is about. We have to move on, continually to develop the strongest country in the world,” he said.

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