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  • Writer's pictureRon Heisey

The Fellowship of the Red Bandanna

As stories began to emerge from the survivors of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, several mentioned a mysterious young man who stepped out of the smoke and horror to lead them to safety. They did not know who this man was who saved their lives, but this they did remember: Wrapped around his mouth and nose was a red bandanna.

For 76 minutes, the man in the red bandanna barked orders, and led people to safety down stairwells. He said, "I found the stairs, follow me." He carried one woman down fifteen flights of stairs—on his back, while leading others to safety, urged them to keep going down, then headed back up.

Upstairs, a badly injured woman was sitting on a radiator when the man with the red bandanna over his face came running across the room and said, "Follow me. I know the way out. I will lead you to safety." Then he led several survivors to a stairwell that took them to safety. He was never seen alive again.

Six months later, on March 1 9th, 2002, the body of the man with the red bandanna was found intact alongside firefighters in a makeshift command center in the South Tower lobby buried under 1 1 0 stories of rubble.

Slowly the story began to come out. Welles Crowther graduated from Boston College where he played Lacrosse, always carrying his trademark red bandanna. In high school, Welles was the kid who would feed the puck to the hockey team's lowest-scoring player, hoping to give his teammate his first goal. At 16 he became a junior volunteer firefighter, following in his dad's footsteps. After college, he joined Sandler O'Neil and Partners and worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower. He always carried change to give to street people. His dream was to become a firefighter or public servant. On September I I th, at the age of 24, Welles Crowther became both, as well as a hero—the "man in the red bandanna." (Compiled from news reports and used with permission by Alison Crowther).

"Follow me. I know the way out. I will lead you to safety."

• Welles was willing: willing to serve and to make a sacrifice for the good of others.

• He was also prepared: he trained so when the time came he was ready.

• Both willing and able, Welles did not miss his moment. He went up while everyone else was coming down.


Courage shows itself in various ways, and each of us will at some point in our lives have the opportunity to be a quiet hero like Welles Crowther. It may indeed involve life and death, like running into grave danger when others are fleeing. But it may also be when we bravely and quietly face a sobering medical diagnosis, either ours or a loved one’s. It may be when we bravely present the gospel message to one who needs to hear it-“Follow me. I know the way, and I will lead you to safety (salvation.)” It may simply be rising each day, quietly and bravely facing whatever challenges lie in front of us. Some days we get knocked down seven times, but we rise eight.

To successfully face and prevail over our “red bandanna” moments, we like Welles need to be prepared. 25% of Secret Service duty is training their credo: "repetitive training to overcome the negatives of self-sacrifice." Our repetitive training consists of optimizing our spiritual, emotional, and physical health. We too can stand tall in our moments of crisis. We can be one of those who runs to the danger. And our acts of bravery are not done for personal glory, but as acts of service. Welles Crowther had no way of knowing anyone would ever know how he performed on September 11, 2001.

“Superficiality is the curse of our age. (...) The desperate need today is not for a greater number intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” -- Richard Foster

“I tell you that this sweet and loving gaze of God insensibly kindles a divine fire in the soul which is set ablaze so ardently with the love of God that one is obliged to perform exterior acts to moderate it.”-

Brother Lawrence


As we hone and exercise our own courage, when called upon to do so, we too can enter the Fellowship of the Red Bandanna.


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