When Welles Remy Crowther was a young boy, his father, Jefferson, instructed him to carry a red bandana.
The white handkerchief Jefferson gave him was “just for show”— he was to blow his nose on the red bandana instead.
Age six at the time, it quickly became Welles’ signature accessory. Jefferson recalled:
“He loved that red bandana, and he always had it with him.”
As Welles grew older he became interested in firefighting, so at the age of 16 he signed up to be a junior firefighter at the local fire house. Welles was a team player— at the fire house and on the lacrosse field — and he was all about helping others.
He went on to play Division I lacrosse at Boston College — always wearing his bandana under his helmet — and then settled on a job as an equities trader in New York City.
Though he was happy with his job on Wall Street, he had a different ambition: to become a New York City firefighter.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Welles was at his desk on the 104th floor of the South Tower in the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. He immediately called his mother to let her know that he was okay.
“Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m okay.”
Those were the last words that Allison Crowther heard her son speak; it was the last time she was aware of her son’s whereabouts.
When the second plane crashed into the South Tower, both Jefferson and Allison knew the worst had happened. Their son was gone.
What they didn’t know at the time was that their son heroically saved the lives of at least a dozen strangers. News of his heroic actions didn’t come to light until several months later, when the New York Times released an article featuring the account of several survivors.
A portion of the article read:
A mysterious man appeared at one point, his mouth and nose covered with a red handkerchief. He was looking for a fire extinguisher. As Judy Wein recalls, he pointed to the stairs and made an announcement that saved lives: Anyone who can walk, get up and walk now. Anyone who can perhaps help others, find someone who needs help and then head down.
A few minutes behind this group was Ling Young, who also survived the impact in the sky lobby. She, too, said she had been steered by the man in the red bandanna, hearing him call out: “This way to the stairs.”
As soon as they read the words “red handkerchief,” Allison and Jefferson knew. That was their son.
According to the survivors’ recounts, Welles risked his life more than once to help others to safety. One of those survivors was Judy Rein. She told CNN:
“If he hadn’t come back, I wouldn’t have made it. People can live 100 years and not have the compassion, the wherewithal, to do what he did.”
Welles was one of many who lost their lives on that horrific day. Like many others, he is remembered for his courage, his perseverance, his selflessness. Jefferson said:
“To know that Welles took off the equity trader hat and put it on the table and picked up his helmet — firefighters helmet — and went to work, for me that was an incredible, incredible thing to do.”
And every time they see a red bandana, the Crowthers can recall with pride the heroic actions of their incredible son.
Shortly after his death, the Crowthers honored Welles by setting up the Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust.