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From Vietnam to the World Trade Center

A bugle, a soldier, and a real hero of September 11th

PFC Ira Rolston
PFC Ira Rolston

Above is a photo of US Army PFC Ira Rolston sounding a captured Viet Cong bugle in the Ia Drang Valley Battle in 1965.

I found this picture some time ago while researching at the National Archives. The image floored me as here appeared to be a photograph of a bugler during Vietnam sounding a bugle in the field! Looking for more information on this photograph, I tracked down and contacted Pvt. Rolston in July 2002.

February 1966: Private First Class Ira Rolston of Vian, Oklahoma, holds his rifle as he walks cautiously through a jungle during a drive against the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War, Republic of Vietnam. The operation was from February 3-7, 1966.

Mr. Rolston was a member of 1st Platoon, B Co., 2nd Battalion, 7th US Air Cavalry, and was a radio operator during the Vietnam War. The bugle is a clairon d’ordonnance, no doubt left by French troops when they departed in the late 1950s. It was captured during the Ia Drang Valley Battle in 1965. According to Mr. Rolston, with whom I spoke with on July 4th, 2002, the picture was one posed for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. The bugle was loaned to him by his company commander, Lt. Richard Rescorla. Since Rolston had played trumpet in high school Lt. Rescorla loaned him the bugle to use while in Vietnam. Mr. Rolston laughed at the idea of sounding actual calls during battle. “We all would have been hitting the ground,” he said. He did “toot it a bit,” though.

There is more to the story…..

Ia Drang was the Army’s first major battle in Vietnam, and one of its bloodiest. The battle claimed 305 American lives, soldiers who died in fierce combat with a North Vietnamese regiment that also took heavy losses. Lt. Rick “Hard Core” Rescorla was one of the heroes of that 1965 battle. Rescorla commanded 1st Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, and was almost worshipped by his soldiers, who called themselves the “Hard Corps” after his nickname. But his courage and infectious optimism resonated beyond those under his immediate command. “Rick was the best combat leader I ever saw in Vietnam,” said Pat Payne, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment’s reconnaissance platoon leader in Ia Drang.

Rick Rescorla in Vietnam
Rick Rescorla in Vietnam

Rescorla’s role in that battle is recounted in detail in the book We Were Soldiers Once And Young, a searing account of the action by retired Lt. Gen. Harold Hal Moore and Joe Galloway. In 1965, Moore was a battalion commander in the center of the battle, and Galloway was a UPI reporter who covered the entire engagement. Even those only vaguely familiar with the book have seen Lt. Rescorla’s image – he is the gaunt soldier on the cover with the 2-day old beard and the bayonet fixed to his M16. Rescorla left Ia Drang with a battered French bugle, seized as a trophy from the Vietnamese. His division came to see that bugle as a talisman.

With LTG (ret) Hal Moore in November 2013
Richard Rescorla
Colonel Richard Rescorla

In 2001, Richard Rescorla was a retired Army Reserve colonel and the head of security for Morgan Stanley’s Individual Investor Group at the World Trade Center. As early as 1992 Rescorla warned the Port Authority (owner of the World Trade Center) about the possibility of a truck bomb attack on the pillars in the basement parking garage, but was ignored. When terrorists used this method in the 1993 attack, Rescorla was instrumental in evacuating the building, and was the last man out.

Rescorla, with his friend Dan Hill, reasoned that the World Trade Center was still a target for terrorists and that the next attack could be a plane crashing into one of the towers. He recommended to his superiors at Morgan Stanley that the company leave Manhattan. Office space and labor costs were lower in New Jersey, and the firm’s employees and equipment would be safer in a proposed four-story building. However, this recommendation was not followed as the company’s lease at the World Trade Center did not terminate until 2006. At Rescorla’s insistence, all employees, including senior executives, then practiced emergency evacuations every three months.

On Sept. 11, Rescorla found himself leading a massive evacuation of Morgan Stanley’s 2,700-person workforce which occupied floors 44 through 74 of the South tower. As soon as the first plane hit the North tower, Rescorla sprang into action. He ignored the admonition of Port Authority security officials to stay put. A co-worker shot the now-famous photograph (below) of Rescorla commanding his troops with a bullhorn. Employees marched two-by-two down the stairwells. Rescorla sang patriotic songs to keep them calm. “Today is a proud day to be an American,” he is said to have told co-workers. His songs also including an adaptation of the song “Men of Harlech” :

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!

Most of Morgan Stanley’s employees were safely out of the building by the time the second plane hit the South tower. And incredibly all but six of Morgan Stanley’s workers survived. Richard Rescorla was one of the lost six. He was last seen walking back up the stairs, in search of stragglers.


So here is a little bit of history. A bugle and a soldier and a real hero of September 11th.
I’d sure love to see and hold that bugle one day.


  1. […] Were Soldiers Once, and Young.” In the film “We Were Soldiers,” he was the young soldier who picked up a bugle dropped by the enemy. He was a hero again on 9/11. To sign the petition to award him a long-overdue […]

  2. […] Were Soldiers Once, and Young.” In the film “We Were Soldiers,” he was the young soldier who picked up a bugle dropped by the enemy. He was a hero again on 9/11. To sign the petition to award him a long-overdue […]

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