Honoring the Legacy of a 9-11 Rescuer
by Dave Brown
This September 11 marks nine years since evil men turned airplanes into flying bombs and murdered 2,976 people in New York City, Washington DC and Shankstown Pennsylvania.
We all can recall where we were that day when we heard the news. Those incredible images remain etched in our minds. Evil spread its wings before the world that day but courage was also unfurled before us as we witnessed the fraternity of men at its best. When the lives of others were at stake, those heroes of 9/11 rushed the stairways and mounted the rubble to rescue them.
403 firemen, paramedics and policemen sacrificed themselves in a grand rescue mission at Ground Zero. There are so many remarkable stories of heroism that day but there’s one in particular that lingers over me to this day
In those final moments before the collapse of the Twin Towers, when people in them were doing all they could to save themselves, there was a mysterious young man who stepped out of the smoke and chaos. He wasn’t a fireman or a rescuer worker but just a regular guy who chose to put the wellbeing of others before his own.
The survivors didn’t know their rescuer’s name that horrible day, but they did remember this about him: he wore a red bandanna around his mouth and nose.
For seventy-six minutes the man in the red bandanna led men and women to safety down stairwells. He called out to them, “I found the stairs. Follow me.” He carried one woman on his back down fifteen flights of stairs. Once he reached the ground floor, he started back up.
On his final climb upstairs, the man in the red bandanna found a badly injured woman. He told her, “Follow me. I know the way out. I will lead you to safety.” Then he led several more lost people to a stairwell and directed them out.
After this last rescue, the man in the red bandanna was never seen again. However, on March 19, 2002, his body was recovered alongside firefighters in the South Tower Lobby, buried under 110 stories of rubble. Slowly his story began to come out.
His name was Welles Crowther. He always carried a red bandanna. His father carried a blue one. In high school Welles was the player who would feed the puck to the team’s lowest-scoring hockey player, giving his teammate a chance to score. He became a junior volunteer firefighter at sixteen following in his dad’s footsteps. He dreamed of becoming a firefighter or a public servant. It’s said he always carried change with him so he could give something to street people.
After he graduated from Boston College he joined a law firm where he worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower. On September 11, 2001 at the age of 24, Welles Crowther became a true hero -- the "man in the red bandanna." - who went up when everyone else was coming down.
In a culture where looking out for number one has become a virtue, Welles Crowther’s example should cause us to step back a bit and aks who or what we’re really looking out for. I’ve often wondered if I had been there in the Twin Towers, would I have gone back upstairs to rescue another person. It’s a scary thought. How about you?
Most of us may never face that kind of situation but what about those all around us trapped in life looking for a way out. What about those who are being taken down and out on the spiritual battlefield of life? How oblivious are we to those desperate lives because we’re preoccupied with our own?
Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, and Mark Bingham were onboard United Airlines 93 over Pennsylvania where evil seized control and sought to take lives of passengers and murder even more lives on the ground.
When evil unfurled itself they knew what they had to do and did what men of valor do when life is on the line. They stood firm against evil even when doing so would cost their lives. Together these regular guys rushed the cockpit on their rescue mission. They did what God has wired men to do.
After saying the Lord’s Prayer and closing it with “God, help me. Jesus, help me”. Todd Beamer’s last words were, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!” “Are you guys ready?” That’s still a haunting question. May we never have to face that kind of physical danger but each day every one of us battles spiritually for our souls and the souls of others. Are you ready to go up against whatever evil or whatever sin is hijacking or controlling your life, the lives of your family, or your neighbors, or other brothers, and to say this is not right; this will not stand; I will do whatever it takes?
The Lord Jesus Christ came on the greatest rescue mission of all time. He came down that we might go up! God the Son stepped into time and space and died to save us from the punishment and power of our sin – our willful rebellion against the King of the universe.
The rescue motif runs throughout Scripture. Galatians 1:4 says He “gave himself for our sins to rescue us”. Colossians 1:13 says “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness”. Paul writes in Romans 5:6, 8 “Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates his own love for us in this; While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.
We need someone who not only knows the way out but who can deliver us from our dilemma and into safety. Jesus put the desperate needs of his people first when He climbed up on that Cross. He also demonstrated how to live and how to die.
Paul in Philippians 2:3-5 explains, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.
When Jesus came from heaven, his job was clear: rescue the dying, whatever it takes, and “seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus says to us in John 20:21 “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you." Jesus put us here to join him in his rescue mission. It’s a mission to "show and tell".
Jude – the half brother of Jesus – writes, “Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment” (Jude 1:23). As you would snatch someone out of a burning building or divert them from walking into a volcano, we’re called to do whatever it takes to point others to Christ and to walk with them in their journey to his safety.
The towers of this world system are collapsing all around us and no one can save themselves. There’s only one real way out and only one true Rescuer. If the 9-11 rescuers dropped everything for the sake of others, how much more should we put everything else on the line when their eternal destiny is at stake?
Our world desperately needs and what the church is looking for are more men willing to go up while everyone else is coming down – men committed to rescue others who’ve been beaten down and taken out and to lead them to the cross of Christ. Are you ready to enlist in that kind of rescue operation?
Here are four things you’ll need to do:
1. Use the weaponry God’s already given you – especially the Sword of the Spirit. Jesus used it as a weapon against Satan and Satan’s camp followers. So should we.
2. Stay connected to your Field Commander through prayer. Jesus was always in prayer to His heavenly Father. So should we.
3. Find other men to do life together with – a band of brothers that includes some battle hardened veterans. Jesus surrounded himself with a band of brothers who He did life with. So should we.
4. Ask God for discernment to see where the battles are being waged and the courage to run to the battle. Jesus lived boldly out on the battlefield. So should we.
Welles Crowther was given the opportunity to make an unconditional sacrifice to rescue others. He was prepared, willing and enabled to do so. He went up when everyone else was coming down. He didn’t miss his moment. Let’s not miss our moment.
Dave Brown is a pastor and the director of the Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries and has been the men's pastor at McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va. He served for 30 years in the federal government's Senior Executive Service (SES), including eight years as an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. He did his seminary work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He's been a leadership consultant, university administrator and member of the board of directors for the C.S. Lewis Institute, Stand in the Gap 2007 and Foundation for Manhood.