Today I want to talk about heroes: two big damn heroes in particular, and then a group of everyday people who, when the call came out, pulled up their socks and decided to become the men and women they were born to be.
The first hero I want to talk about is Father Mychal Judge. Father Judge lived in New York, and was, quite bluntly, rather a pain in the neck to orthodox Catholics and his local bishops. Father Judge openly supported movements which the Church could not and which he, as a priest of that Church, should not have. I refer specifically to an organization which teaches that homosexual behavior is acceptable and should be accepted--nay, celebrated--by the Catholic Church.
You might think that if I were to hear of a priest whose sympathies were similar to Father Judge's today, I'd roll my eyes and sigh in exasperation, and you'd probably be right.
Yet when the going got tough, Father Judge got going. Father Judge was a chaplain for the FDNY. When he heard about the first plane, he ran into the north tower as most everyone else ran away. Why? Because he knew his vocation. His vocation was, first, foremost, and above all, to save souls. And in those last few minutes, he ministered, anointed, and absolved countless victims. When the south tower collapse, debris flew into the lobby of the north tower where Father Judge was ministering to the injured. He was killed immediately. One never knows, of course, the eternal destination of a person's soul, but I hope and pray that such a man and such a priest would be welcomed into Paradise.
His body was the first to be removed from the World Trade Center that morning.
The next big damn hero was another man entirely. Father Judge was a man of peace. Rick Rescorla was a soldier. A paratrooper, a boxer, a war hero: Rick Rescorla was all these things. And yet the men who served under him in Vietnam, while praising his great courage on the one hand, detailed how he would calm the frightened lads in his unit by singing English and Welsh folk songs to them.
After Mr. Rescorla left his military and, later, law enforcement careers, he was recruited to work in corporate security at the World Trade Center. Clearly a brilliant tactician, he predicted both the 1993 and the 2001 attacks, even specifying precisely how they would be carried out based upon the buildings' structural and security weaknesses. His superiors chose to ignore his advice, which after the 1993 bombing included a recommendation that they leave the World Trade Center towers (which, he accurately pointed out, were high-profile and easily-identifiable targets) and relocate to a lower and less obvious building. Mr. Rescorla proceeded to do what he could within the parameters given to him to make the people in his charge as safe as possible. He required the employees of his company to complete frequent evacuation, fire, and safety drills, a thing to which no other firm in the World Trade Center paid much attention. He irritated many of the higher-level employees by requiring them to engage in these drills alongside their employees. His standards were exacting: he even timed drills with a stopwatch, and demanded accountability when he saw room for improvement.
Mr. Rescorla's office was in the north tower. Upon the plane striking the south tower, the Port Authority ordered all employees to remain in their offices rather than evacuate the building. Realizing just how foolish an order that was, Mr. Rescorla ignored it. Seizing a bullhorn and a radio, he began a systematic evacuation of over 2500 people in his building. He continued this evacuation even as the second plane struck his tower, and kept the employees from panicking by singing to them through the bullhorn. One of the songs he sang was "Men of Harlech":
Can you picture it? One man, a leader of men, a man who almost single-handedly saved twenty-five hundred lives that day, singing through a bullhorn to keep those in his charge calm, orderly, and above all, not panicked. In a disaster, panic kills more than the disaster itself. A stampede in those stairwells would have been understandable, but deadly, and he could not permit it. So he sang on.
He escorted his people to safety, and then turned back to the tower to enter it again and conduct a search for other survivors. When warned of the danger, he replied that he would not leave until he had verified that all those in his charge were out, and went back up into the tower.
His remains were never identified.
Cyril Richard Rescorla. A soldier, a hero, a singer, and most of all, a man. Rest in peace, good and faithful servant.
As for my group of heroes, let me start with a question to all you history buffs. What was the largest sea evacuation in history?
Ha! Easy, you reply. Dunkirk, the Allied evacuation during WWII. Got nearly 340,000 soldiers out in a few short days. Still regarded as bordering on the miraculous.
*pause for stunned silence*
The correct answer is September 11, 2001, and an event which later became known as Boatlift. During this event, nearly half a million souls were evacuated from Manhattan, mostly by civilians, in just about nine hours. After the World Trade Center was hit, the bridges and tunnels to and from Manhattan (n.b. for those unfamiliar with New York geography: Manhattan is an island) were shut down in an effort to establish some sort of order and protect the city from other possible attacks. Remember, no one really knew yet what had happened. Some had seen the planes fly into the buildings. Most hadn't. Cell phone reception was nonexistent because the towers were overwhelmed with people trying to reach loved ones. Many landlines were impossible to use. As one person put it, as far as they knew, someone had or was about to nuke Manhattan. No one knew what had happened, and most importantly, no one knew what would happen next.
What was certain was that Manhattan was clearly a target, and that there were countless people on the island with no way to get off.
At that point, the Coast Guard put out a call over CB radio: "All available boats, this is the United States Coast Guard...anyone who can help with the evacuation of lower Manhattan, please do so."
"(My wife) said, 'but what if they're attacked again?' I said, well, then, that's something I'll have to live with...even if I save one person, that's one person less that will suffer and die." ~~a captain who, upon hearing of the disaster, immediately went to his boat to begin the evacuation
Watch the rest of the story here, and see if you can keep from being so proud your computer screen suddenly goes foggy:
What does that make them?
Big damn heroes, sir. Big damn heroes.
ETA: Commenter Zachary remarked that this all reminded him of Os Justi. I quite agree.
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of his God is in his heart, and his feet do not falter.
*Bonus points if you get the reference.