The Red Bandanna

by Tom Rinaldi

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525

The Red Bandanna, written by ESPN correspondent Tom Rinaldi and published in 2016, is a true story and a tribute to Welles Crowther, a twenty-four-year-old man who died on 9/11 during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A Wall Street junior associate, Welles sacrificed his own life while leading others to safety. The book starts when Welles was a young boy, and it includes interviews with his family and also with 9/11 survivors.

Welles grew up in Nyack, New York. He came from a very happy and loving family. When he was young his father—who was a volunteer firefighter—gave him two handkerchiefs; a white one to display decoratively in his pocket, and a red one he could use to wipe his face. Welles loved the red handkerchief and kept it with him always, even during the time when he himself joined the fire service as a volunteer firefighter. Welles was an excellent student and athlete. Though shorter for his age, he rose to be a leader in both lacrosse and hockey. After high school, he continued his studies at Boston College. He played lacrosse for the college and wore the red handkerchief as a bandanna. Welles studied business at school. 

After graduation, Welles was recruited by Sandler O’Neill as an equities researcher and analyst. His offices were located on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower. However, in 2001 he called his father to say that he was unhappy working in finance, despite the success he’d seen so far. He planned to leave the firm to become a firefighter.

On September 11, after the planes had hit the World Trade Center, Welles called his parents to tell them that he was okay; but after that call, they never heard from him again, and his body was not found. The family holds a funeral, unaware of the impact Welles had up until his final moments. The family continues looking for closure, and eventually Welles’s body is found. He was identified with a group of firefighters who also lost their lives in the attack. Months after September 11, the family heard an interview with a woman who had survived that day. She told the story of a young man who had saved not only her life but the lives of many others. She didn’t know him but said that he wore a red bandanna around his mouth. Upon seeing a photo of Welles, she identified him as the hero who had saved many lives. Many other survivors came forward and the story emerged of Welles entering the building again and again as he rescued more and more people and continued searching for survivors. It is said he was still inside the building when the South Tower collapsed.

Welles has been posthumously awarded membership in the Fire Department of New York, and at the opening of the Museum at Ground Zero, President Barack Obama gave a tribute to him. The Crowther family started a charity to recognize human goodness in Welles’s memory. At his alma mater, Boston College, students wave red bandannas at sporting events to carry on Welles’s legacy.

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