At last month’s dedication of the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York city, President Obama paid special tribute to “the man with the red bandana,” who rescued at least 12 people from the burning and collapsing South Tower of the World Trade Center before being killed himself. Twenty-four-year-old Welles Crowther, the son of Jefferson and Allison Crowther, had spent early childhood summers at the Chilmark seasonal home of his late grandparents, Bosley and Florence Crowther. His grandfather was the longtime movie critic of the New York Times. Young Welles was always an enthusiastic sailor with his grandparents.
A native of Nyack, N.Y., Welles Crowther was a graduate of Boston College, where he majored in economics and played varsity lacrosse. Although his employment was as an equities trader with the firm of Sandler O’Neill & Partners, he had been enthusiastic about fire fighting ever since boyhood and, at 16, had become a junior member of the Empire Hook & Ladder Co. #1 in Upper Nyack, and later became a full member. He had often dreamed of firefighting, or the FBI, or the CIA as careers before getting his investment office job.
On 9/11, he had managed to get from the 104th floor of the South Tower, where his firm’s offices were, to the 78th floor. There he found a band of frightened and injured fellow escapees huddled, not knowing what to do next. He firmly ordered them down the staircase as he concerned himself with carrying one burned young woman to safety before going back after another with a broken arm and crushed ribs. He went back time after time into the burning building to help others get out before apparently succumbing himself. His body was not found until 2002.
Those whom he rescued simply referred to him as “the man with the red bandana,” for he had a red bandana over his nose and mouth as protection from the smoke. Ever since he was six, and his father had presented him with a red bandana, he had carried one with him — as something of a bond with his father who had always carried a red bandana. A red bandana heralding his sacrifice is among the museum’s exhibits.
”People can live 100 years and not have the compassion and wherewithal to do what he did,” one of those he had rescued told the president at the ceremony where Welles was honored. His parents have started the Red Bandana Project, a character development program for classrooms and camps, in his name and also established a charitable trust honoring him.