Last Updated on October 27, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505
Welles Crowther is introduced through 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. He rose to leadership roles with a natural knack for hard work. 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. Months before Welles’s heroic efforts and untimely death, he spoke to his father and said he wanted to leave his job in finance to pursue firefighting. He had dreamt of it since he was young, when his father gave him a red bandanna that he always kept with him. Though Welles 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.