11 Sep Inspiration from the Red Bandanna
Welles Remy Crowther was a 24-year-old equities trader with Sandler O’Neill and Partners on the 104th floor of the South Tower when it was struck on September 11, 2001. A 1999 Boston College graduate, he had been a member of the college’s lacrosse team, where he played with a ubiquitous bandanna under his helmet. Through high school and college, he had been an honors student, and, at 16, he joined as a junior member of his local fire company in Upper Nyack, New York.
Nine minutes after the first plane struck the North Tower Welles called his mother Allison and left a voice mail. “I want you to know that I’m okay,” he said. That was the last his parents would hear from him. At 9:59 a.m., 47 minutes after Welles’ phone call to his mother, the South Tower collapsed. His remains were found six months later.
Welles Crowther’s bravery on 9/11 is the central story of the “Commit” chapter of my book, Leadership that Lasts. Welles had many opportunities to flee the South Tower in the minutes that followed the crash of United Airlines Flight 175. Instead, he made every effort to guide victims to less obstructed stairwells that led downward to safety.
Ling Young, one of the survivors from the 78th floor, encountered the man, trying to protect himself from smoke and dust with a red bandanna. “All [of] a sudden we saw a young man come out of nowhere. You heard this man’s voice say, ‘I found the stairs. Follow me,’” she recounted. “It was the way he said it. We just got up [and followed].”
Eyewitnesses on 9/11 believe Welles Crowther may have saved as many as 12 people that day. He was posthumously named an honorary firefighter by the FDNY, and his heroic acts were described by President Obama at the 2014 dedication of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
More than 400 firefighters and police officers lost their lives on 9/11. Many others died and suffered greatly in the years that followed from the toxic impact of the buildings’ collapse. We should always keep in mind those first responders who enable us to take our safety for granted. They make it possible for us to make choices to be entrepreneurs, leaders, engineers, lawyers, educators and more. Those brave people enable us to pursue our dreams.
(To learn more about Welles Crowther, visit crowthertrust.org. I also encourage you to check out the documentary, Man in Red Bandana, and Tom Rinaldi’s book, The Red Bandanna: A life. A choice. A legacy.)
© Tim Matheney, 2018