President Trump on Thursday honored a late Vietnam War veteran and hero of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
The president awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal to Rick Rescorla, who died while leading evacuation efforts in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
“This evening, we come together to pay tribute to a fallen hero who devoted his life to defending freedom and who made the supreme sacrifice to ave others on Sept. 11, 2001,” Trump said.
Rescorla was born in the United Kingdom but went on to serve in Vietnam in the U.S. Army. He later worked as a private security contractor and was eventually head of security for Morgan Stanley in the company’s offices in the World Trade Center. He laid out evacuation plans for the towers in the event of a terrorist attack, drilling employees on the procedure.
He died on Sept. 11, 2001, while leading the evacuation of others in the building. He is credited with saving thousands of lives.
“That night, those 2,700 people went home to their loved ones,” Trump said. “In the 18 years since, they have raised families; sent their children to college; walked their sons and daughters down the aisle; held their grandchildren thanks in great measure to one extraordinary American.”
Rescorla’s wife, Susan, spoke briefly at Thursday’s ceremony. She thanked Trump and the other roughly 200 attendees and noted that each of the honors her late husband has received has allowed her to learn more about him.
Dozens of veterans who served in Vietnam with Rescorla and several first responders were in attendance as well.
Rescorla’s story has been the the subject of a 2002 profile in The New Yorker, as well as books and an opera.
The Presidential Citizens Medal is awarded to those “who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.” It is considered the second highest civilian honor, after the Medal of Freedom.
Past recipients include baseball player and Hank Aaron, boxer and activist Muhammad Ali and the teachers who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.