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9/11's 'Man in the Red Bandana' gave his life for others in the WTC south tower

10:10 AM, Sep 11, 2011   |    comments
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Welles Crowther, 1977 - 2001

MARIETTA, Ga. -- There are many stories from survivors, from that morning in the World Trade Center, including survivors who talk about a man in a red bandana who helped them get out.

"You know, I feel lucky."

John Howells, a Metro Atlanta native who lives in Marietta, calls himself lucky to have known Welles Crowther.

RELATED: Family touched by UCF fans' red bandanna tribute to 9/11 hero brother

And others who knew Welles Crowther -- even though they knew him only during the last hour of his life inside the hell-on-earth that was the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 -- owe him their lives.

That morning, Howells grabbed a phone and called Crowther right after the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.  The two 24-year-old men had been roommates at Boston College, Class of '99.

Howells wasn't sure if Crowther's office was in the north tower or the south tower.

It was in the upper floors of the south tower.

"And I said, 'Are you okay, what happened?' He said he felt it, he heard it, and in the background I could hear them announcing over the speakers to get out, and he said he was leaving. And that was about 8:50 am."

But then the second plane struck Crowther's building.

His family and friends never heard from Crowther again.

They simply held onto their memories of the child who always carried with him the red bandana his father gave him, who grew up to became a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Nyack, New York, who earned his degree from Boston College and became an equities trader in the World Trade Center, who still carried with him that red bandana.

Then, months after the attacks, his mother was reading survivor stories in the newspaper, "about a couple of survivors that said they were saved by a man in a red bandana. And she immediately knew."

She sent the survivors photos of her son, and they said, that's him, that's the man who saved them, the man who fell back on his firefighter training, took charge, and guided them out, then went back up and helped more people get out.

"I think he just had it in his head that he was going to survive or that he was going to help others, and he did it," Howells said. "He could have left, but he kept going back in trying to get people. He directed some people out, because with all the smoke they didn't know if there was a stairwell intact. He carried some people down the stairwell."

Survivors said they were immobilized with shock and fear, unable to comprehend what had just happened, worried that if they tried to move the floor would collapse underneath them.

Then, they said, they saw Welles Crowther with his red bandana alternately over his face and around his neck, moving quickly through the smoke and flames, taking charge, taking command, snapping them to with his crisp, authoritative instructions.

"From the survivors accounts, he [told them], 'If you can walk, get up, walk, there's the stairwell; if you can help somebody else, help somebody else.' And then for the people that couldn't walk he would either get somebody else to or he carried them down. Sometimes it was 20 or 30 floors."

Crowther's family and friends had not yet learned about any of that when searchers found Crowther's body.

"On March 19, 2002, they found his body with firefighters, along with a jaws of life."

He was in the debris of what had been the lobby of the south tower. But Howells said no one understood, yet, what Crowther had been doing just before he lost his life, since no one had heard, yet, from the survivors who themselves had no idea who their hero was.

But soon everyone would understand what happened the moment Crowther and the firefighters were killed: "They think they were going back up the stairs to see if they could get some more people."

John Howells always carries with him, now, a red bandana, and hopes his children grow up with the courage of his friend.

"He could have taken the easy way out. There are a lot of situations in everybody's life where you can take the easy way out. You can just go with the flow and you can do what everybody else was doing -- everybody else was running out of the building. He really listened to his gut. And was a hero for it. So I kind of look at it from that standpoint, I think all of us could do that a little bit more and make more of an impact in the world."

And it was what Welles Crowther's family found inside his apartment that forever speaks to where his heart was all along:

They found a job application to be a firefighter with the fire department of New York City.

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Link:  The Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust  click here

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