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The Red Bandana in the 9/11 Museum

In a recent book Jack Alexander writes:

From the time he was six years old, Welles Crowther wore a red bandana. His father gave it to him, explaining the clean white hand­kerchief in breast pocket was "for show," the red bandanna was "for blow." Welles took that red bandanna everywhere. When he volunteered with the Empire Hook and Ladder Company at age sixteen—joining his father on the force—he carried it with him. When he played lacrosse for Boston College, he tied it around his head and wore it under his helmet. Even when he took a job as an equities trader, working on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower, he brought it with him.

In a culture of starched white handkerchiefs folded neatly in Italian-suit breast pockets, Welles kept his bandanna close. And it was with him on Sept. 11, 2001, when United Airlines Flight 175 exploded into the South Tower, cutting a fatal swath between floors 78 and 85.

Several floors below Welles, Lin Yung was blown back by the explosion and couldn't see anything at first because her eyeglasses were covered in blood. When she wiped them off, Lin saw a world of nightmare: mangled bodies strewn around her, dust and debris everywhere. Lin didn't know how long her luck would hold.

Then she saw a young man through the smoke and ash, seemingly more shadow than flesh. He said, "I found the stairs. Follow me." Welles led Lin and others down seventeen flights of stairs to where firefighters led survivors down another twenty floors to a set of still-working elevators. But Welles didn't follow them. Instead, he went back up, a red bandanna wrapped around his nose and mouth.

He found Judy Wein in the rubble–her arm was broken, ribs cracked. One of her lungs was punctured. Welles called out: "Everyone who can stand, stand now. If you can help others, do so." Welles led Judy down the stairs, again to a band of waiting firefighters. And then he went back up. Again.

Welles didn't make it out of the South Tower. Perhaps he never expected to. His body was found six months later, surrounded by the bodies of uniformed firefighters. It's said that he saved perhaps as many as a dozen people that day. He was twenty-four years old. Wein told CNN, "People can live 100 years and not have the compassion, the wherewithal to do what he did.”

Lin keeps a photo of Welles in her apartment. She says, "Without him, I wouldn't be here. He saved my life. And he will always be in my heart. Always be with me.”

Welles is gone, but his bandanna is not. It's part of the 9/11 museum now, and it's become a symbol of the man's heroism and self-sacrifice. Think mercy can't change the world? Take a look at Welles Crowther. Take a look at the people he saved. Think again.

Possible Preaching Angle:

The cross of Christ is the supreme powerful symbol of sacrifice for others. We should remember it and display it in His honor.


Jack Alexander, The God Impulse (Baker Books, 2018), pp. 99-101

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