“They didn’t know his name. They didn’t know where he came from. But they knew their lives had been saved by the man in the red bandana.”
President Obama uttered these words at the September 11th Memorial and Museum dedication. I watched the ceremony from my laptop as a cold chill ran up my spine. I knew whom he was talking about. The hairs on my arms and neck stood up and my stomach churned when he uttered the phrase “the man in the red bandana.” “He called for fire extinguishers to fight back the flames. He tended to the wounded. He led those survivors down the stairs to safety,” recounted Obama. “And then he went back up. Back up all those flights then back down again, bringing more wounded to safety, until that moment when the tower fell.”
Obama could’ve chosen to talk about anyone else at the opening ceremony. He could’ve chosen to speak about Frank de Martini and Pablo Ortiz, two Port Authority employees remembered as the “Heroes of the 88th Floor” in the North Tower, rescuing more than 50 people. He could’ve spoken about Rick Rescorla, known to the History Channel as the “man who predicted 9/11,” a man who escorted people out of the South Tower.
On this day, 13 years ago, nobody knew this man’s name. All they knew was he wore a red bandana. In May of 2002, the New York Times published an article that included the account of the mysterious man with the red bandana. Alison Crowther had been searching for the details of her son, Welles, who perished in the South Tower. She didn’t need to look any further. She found her son.
13 years later, we luckily know the name of the man. Welles Crowther, 24, an equities trader for Sandler O’Neill and Partners in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Son of Alison and Jefferson Crowther. Volunteer firefighter. Boston College alum. A man who always carried a red bandana. On 9/11, Welles saved as many as 12 lives.
I didn’t know who Welles was until three years ago, when I saw the documentary made by ESPN chronicling Welles’ heroism on 9/11. The Man in the Red Bandana brought tears to my eyes. I was a freshman, new to BC, but had a vision of what BC fosters through Welles' narrative.
While Welles is no longer with us, his legacy lives on in many ways. His name and that of 21 other BC alums who lost their lives on 9/11 are preserved on the Memorial Labyrinth behind the Burns Library. I walked that labyrinth for the first time the day after Obama’s recount of Welles’ final hour. As I walked, images of 9/11 flashed before my eyes: The smoke clouding the sky as I walked out of my elementary school on the Lower East Side. The throng of people walking on the sidewalks, fearful of being inside a building. The towers collapsing. But when I reached Welles’ name, serenity rested upon me and I felt at ease.
His name is also etched on the South Pool of the 9/11 Memorial. Panel S-50, top right corner. Just like at the labyrinth, the same experience: serenity. Maybe I thought of the accounts of Welles' bright personality and how enjoyable he was to be around. Or maybe I thought of the accounts of how his calmness helped save the life of Ling Young and others on the sky lobby of the South Tower.
On Saturday, the Eagles will be wearing accessories emblazoned with a red bandana design to honor Welles during their home game against USC. On the lacrosse field, Welles wasn’t the biggest guy, but like his teammate, James Tremble said, “he had to scrap and fight for everything.” BC is entering the game as the little guy against the big opponent. But having the red bandana on their uniforms means the Eagles are going to scrap and fight for a win, just like Welles would. Alison and Jefferson will be in attendance to hand out red bandanas to students attending the game, similar to the red bandana on display in the 9/11 museum, to serve as a reminder of Welles' legacy in our own lives.
BC tells its students to go and set the world aflame. On 9/11, Welles battled flames that destroyed two buildings and killed almost 3,000 people, including him. But Welles set the world aflame with his actions that day and his story will burn forever in the lives of those he saved, BC students and the world. His legacy can not be extinguished. Obama said in his speech the true spirit of 9/11 was "love, compassion and sacrifice and to enshrine forever in the heart of our nation." Welles did all three and his actions enshrine his legacy forever.
Never forget 9/11 and never forget Welles Crowther, the man in the red bandana.
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