Last Updated on September 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487
The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi is a true story centered around the life and heroic actions of Welles Crowther in the 9/11 attacks. Not only does it tell Welles's story, it reveals the perspectives of his parents, Jeff and Alison Crowther, in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Welles Crowther is introduced via the memories that constantly replay in his father's mind. "A boy blossoming, awkward and beautiful, unfolding into his own life," Welles is depicted as an underdog, especially as a child. While smaller and weaker than others, his determination is remarked upon by all he meets. His football teammates from elementary school describe him as "a genuinely tough kid" to go up against in drills, but his determination was not only physical.
In high school, when he was overlooked for a position as hockey team captain, he took his coach's feedback and put it into practice immediately. The coach was duly impressed and named him the third team captain after only two weeks. His determination followed him into adulthood and to the 9/11 attacks, where he sacrificed his own life to lead two different groups to safety. Though he knew both towers had been hit and had the opportunity to escape and survive, his determination to help others was stronger than any needs of his own.
Welles was very close to his father, Jeff Crowther, from an early age. Jeff had become a firefighter early in Welles's life, and the fire station became a shared passion for father and son. This closeness to and love for his son made Welles's death especially hard for Jeff. The narrative frequently includes flashbacks, episodes from Welles's life that Jeff relives daily. Although the recognition that Welles eventually receives is certainly heartwarming, Jeff depicts the realities of coping with the death of a loved one in a tragic way: "I still weep every day for my son."
Alison Crowther feels the same deep pain as her husband. She also demonstrates great strength throughout the narrative. From the moment she moves from denial to acceptance of Welles's death, Alison works to ensure that her son is not forgotten. She holds out hope for months that Welles's body will eventually be found. When it is, on the day of an important audition for her daughter, Alison collects herself and remains strong in support. As she reads the paper and discovers stories about "the man with the red handkerchief," she identifies her son and moves to connect with the survivors who shared their stories. Alison eventually speaks at the public unveiling of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, following President Obama in sharing the story of her son and his sacrifice.
The Crowther family's story is memorialized through the red bandanna Welles carried with him. It has come to symbolize not only Welles and his determination and sacrifice, but also his parents and their love and strength in the wake of loss.
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