September 11: Remembering a Lost Friend

I read last week in Vanity Fair that the San Francisco Opera Company will debut an opera this Saturday evening titled Heart of a Soldier, based on New York Times writer James B. Stewart’s 2002 book by the same name. The new opera tells the story of Rick Rescorla, who was born in Cornwall, England, fought for the U.S. Army in Vietnam and eventually took a job as head of security for Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center in New York. On September 11, 2001, Rescorla bravely evacuated thousands of his fellow Morgan Stanley employees to safety. Just before the south tower collapsed, he went back in one last time. He was never seen again.

I was reminded of another 9/11 story, this one even closer to home. Douglas Gene Karpiloff, a 1966 graduate of General Douglas MacArthur High School in Levittown, and a classmate of mine, died the same day in tower two. He was 53, married, with a grown son and daughter. And he too was a security officer. In fact, he was head of security and life safety for the World Trade Center, the capstone of a 30-year career with the Port Authority. [expand]

The last time I saw Doug Karpiloff was in June of 2001, at our 35-year high school reunion, at the Marriott Hotel in Melville. I remember well our mutual friend Steve Morea grabbing me into one of those “what are you doing now?” conversations and saying “Doug is head of all security at the twin towers!” I was impressed, but not surprised. Doug was a graduate of Hofstra and Columbia. He’d been at the WTC through the 1993 car bombings and had put many new security programs into effect; he was clearly proud of his job.

After hearing Doug was lost in the 9/11 tragedy I was struck by the bravery of his actions. He was actually, ironically, showing John O’Neill, the newly named head of security and an FBI man, around that day. Doug was transitioning to another job with the WTC’s new management. Doug’s colleagues said he was leading others to safety and went in “one last time” just as Rescorla had done at Morgan Stanley. On Doug’s Newsday memorial page people who knew him for years and those who only met him during the evacuation told of his courage, strength and sweetness. Some cited his crisp demeanor, always in a suit jacket, not a hair out of place. I remember him that way too: smart and sweet and funny; neat as a pin, supportive and school spirited. An all-round good guy.

Did Karpiloff and Rescorla know each other? Chances are they did. After all, Rescorla was in charge of security for one of the biggest tenants in the complex over which Doug presided. Did they pass each other on the way in or out that day and give each other support? We’ll never know, but I would like to think that Doug was more than a minor player in Rescorla’s life story, which has been performed in different ways on the world’s stage.

I look forward to attending the opera Heart of a Soldier when it comes to New York, as it surely will. It stars baritone Thomas Hampson as Rescorla and features Jimi Hendrix-style music from the Vietnam period, as well as the haunting bagpipe tunes of Rescorla’s native Cornwall.

It is reported that Rescorla sang these native Cornish ballads in the stairwell on 9/11 in an effort to keep people calm.

Did Douglas Karpiloff hear them too? Was it soothing?

Are they singing each to each?

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