By Elizabeth Aguilera U-T San Diego
Raging wind and crisp fall air did not keep hundreds of veterans and supporters from gathering at the foot of the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial on Saturday to honor the service of those who have fought and died for liberty abroad and here at home.
“Veterans are men and women who stand up for freedom around the world,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Len Hering. “We cannot measure the sacrifice of their service or their lives.”
Overhead, a foursome of airplanes appeared and then returned only as three, in a missing man formation, to honor the late Cyril “Rick” Rescorla, a decorated Army veteran who died while saving people during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A memorial plaque in honor of Rescorla was unveiled at the event.
The commemoration marked the first of three days of Veterans Day events in San Diego and across the nation. It is the first to be celebrated since the final troops returned from Iraq last year. While today marks the official holiday, Monday is the federal observance as well as the annual Veterans Day parade, which begins at 11 a.m. downtown.
At Mount Soledad, under the brilliant blue sky, nearly 300 people gathered for the ceremony. Behind the podium, young Boy Scouts and ROTC members kept dozens of military flags from succumbing to the wind.
Proud but frail veterans — including those from the Korean Veterans Association and the Return to Normandy Association — joined younger men and women who stood when their military branch was recognized. All saluted the flag during the raising of the colors, and many sang along to “God Bless America.”
Marine Sgt. Ritchie Sanchez, 23, who is getting married today to Kayla Clark, brought his visiting Louisiana family to Mount Soledad. It is where he proposed a year ago.
“It’s inspiring to see that people still appreciate veterans,” said Sanchez, who has served two tours in Afghanistan. “I would like for people in the civilian world, who sometimes look at the military in bad taste or judge us based on one person’s actions, to really know veterans and to know their freedoms are because of the military.”
Sanchez was especially moved by the story of Rescorla, shared by Rescorla’s best friend, retired Army Capt. Daniel J. Hill.
“He was the sort of man that could never give enough. He would stay until the last bullet was fired and then some,” said Hill, who traveled from Florida to speak. “What concerned him was other people.”
British-born Rescorla served in the British Army before immigrating to the U.S. and joining the Army so he could fight communism inVietnam. He earned many recognitions including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
Decades later as head of security for Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center, Rescorla was credited for evacuating 2,700 people from 22 floors in the south tower. He was last seen going up the stairs for a final sweep before the tower collapsed.
The 62-year-old is recognized for having foreseen the terror attack and was known for extensive security and evacuation drills.
“Rick’s unwavering conviction and extraordinary bravery prevented a massive loss of lives at our firm,” said Mark Kremer, executive director of Morgan Stanley in La Jolla.
Barry Garson of San Diego led the effort to honor Rescorla after reading Heart of a Soldier, a book about Rescorla’s life.
“He saved all those people’s lives, he’s such a war hero,” said Garson, chairman of emergency preparedness for the Building Owners and Managers Association. “He chose to get more people, that is inspiring. He made a choice to go back in.”