Seventeen years later, the stories of 9/11 continue to captivate, inspire, and bring tears to our eyes. As a current college lacrosse player, there is one particular story that I am always reminded of on this somber day. I did not know anyone who died on 9/11, but every year I hear the story of Welles Crowther and feel like he could have been my best friend.
A native of Nyack, New York, Crowther played lacrosse and hockey in high school, as well as signing up as a volunteer firefighter at the age of sixteen. He always wore the number 19, and his trademark was a red bandana that his father first gave to him when he was six years old. He always carried the red bandana with him and wore it under his helmet during games. Welles went on to play division one lacrosse at Boston College, where he graduated in 1999 with a degree in economics. He then took a job as an equities trader for the firm Sandler O’Neill and Partners in an office on the 104th floor in South Tower of the World Trade Center.
On September 11 at 9:03 a.m., United Flight 175 struck the South Tower. Welles immediately called his mother and left a message, letting her know that he was okay. He made his way to the 78th floor sky lobby, where he encountered a group of survivors, including the badly burned Ling Young, who worked on the 86th floor in New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance. Carrying a woman on his back, Crowther led the survivors seventeen floors down the one working staircase to the safety of waiting firefighters. He then returned to the 78th floor, using his red bandana to shield his mouth and nose from the smoke. He found more survivors, including AON Corp. employee Judy Wein, who was suffering from a broken arm, cracked ribs, and a punctured lung. He proceeded to lead those survivors downstairs as well. As they headed for the street, Welles went back up. The South Tower collapsed at 9:59. He never made it out. He was 24 years old.
Welles’ body was found on March 19, 2002 alongside several fallen firefighters and emergency workers. The circumstances surrounding his death remained a mystery until his mother, Allison Crowther, read Judy Wein’s firsthand account in the New York Times of being led to safety by “a mysterious man with a red bandana.” She began meeting with people he had saved and it was determined that Welles Crowther saved as many as 18 people in the South Tower on that fateful day. “I would not be here today if it weren’t for him,” said Ling Young, who now has a picture of Welles that she keeps in her living room.
Of all things, it was the red bandana that allowed Welles’ story to be heard. He is memorialized by such events as the “Red Bandana Run,” a 5K road race held every October at Boston College. His BC lacrosse teammate Tyler Jewell wore a red bandana in his honor while competing as a snowboarder at the 2006 Winter Olympics. For the anniversary of 9/11 in 2014, the Boston College football team wore uniforms symbolizing Crowther’s red bandana in a game against the University of Southern California. The Eagles went on to defeat the 9th ranked Trojans in a stunning upset. In 2006, Crowther was named an honorary New York City firefighter and at the local firehouse in his hometown of Nyack, a picture of Welles is the last thing firefighters see when responding to a call.
At National 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, Welles is memorialized with a red bandana on Panel S-50 at the South Pool. His story is celebrated every year in the lacrosse community as a pure act of heroism. Despite easily being able to reach safety, he went back up to save more people, giving his own life in the process.
At the dedication of the National 9/11 Memorial in 2014, President Obama said of Crowther, “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.”
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.