As a Boston College student, it is practically a rite of passage to learn and spread the story of Welles Crowther. It was just 15 years ago that the former Eagle died in the South Tower during the attacks of Sept. 11. However we do not remember Crowther for his death, but as ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi depicted, “what he chose to do in the final hour of his life.”
For those who do not know the story, Welles Crowther grew up a son of a firefighter in Nyack, New York. When he was a little boy, his father gave him a red handkerchief simply for blowing his nose, but to Welles, it meant so much more. From the first time he laid eyes on it, to the day he passed, Crowther and the bandana were one. As a high schooler, Crowther became a highly respected lacrosse player, as well as a volunteer firefighter.
After spending four years on the Heights, not a second without his red bandana, he went on to work on Wall Street at the World Trade Center. On that fateful day, September 11th, Welles Crowther single-handedly saved the lives of roughly a dozen people, and perhaps even more . According to several accounts of the events within the South Tower, there was a man who had a red bandana tied around his face, directing, carrying, and leading injured people to the safety of the ground floor of the Tower.
Many have told Crowther’s story, but none better than ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. His book, The Red Bandana, was published in 2014, and since has become a New York Times best seller. This past Thursday, Rinaldi came to BC to talk about his book and the experiences he had writing it.
While there were undoubtedly many factors that created Crowther into the man he became, Rinaldi was adamant that BC was the place that “molded, taught, and sent him out into the world.” As a result, Rinaldi felt compelled to come speak to the community that fostered Welles' spirit.
To begin, Rinaldi shared a few humorous stories from Crowther’s time on campus. These anecdotes illustrated how the man-turned-hero was once just another kid in Chestnut Hill, searching for his place in the world. Later, as Rinaldi continued his array of chilling stories, he told the story of Welles’s graduation day. On that May afternoon, Welles, like all 2,000 of his other classmates, found himself in his seat looking for his parents in order to exchange a wave and smile for a photo.
In true fireman form, Welles and his father were able to immediately find one another with one simple cheer, a loud siren noise that Jefferson Crowther would drum up (a tradition they became accustomed to at lacrosse games). The point in this story? Rinaldi claimed that this siren was Crowther’s signature, something that truly represented him. The author continued by noting that “there is a siren and a song to each and everyone." He stressed that each and every person in this world has a story of their own, a mission to fulfill, and a passion to pursue. In Welles case, in just so happened to be saving the lives of others.
In his final hours, Welles Crowther, escorted a group down to the bottom of the South Tower. Then, without hesitation, he ran back up endless flights of stairs to save even more. Rinaldi said that Crowther was literally five seconds from freedom and life, but instead chose to run towards the sirens, towards those in need. In this way, Crowther exemplified what Rinaldi called “the simplest and greatest motto of any college anywhere,” to live a life serving the world as men and women for others.
Follow @BCGavelSports on Twitter for the latest updates for Boston College athletics.