Though they had never met one another, Judy Wein and Ling Young had much in common. They were both in the South Tower when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. They were both bleeding and terrified, as well. Worse, they were both trapped.
But they would share one more commonality on that fateful day.
Just seventeen life-changing minutes earlier, both women were peacefully working at their respective desks, on separate floors, when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower adjacent to their own building. Ignoring intercom announcements telling employees to remain where they were, Judy Wein vacated her office on the 103rd floor and began making her way down the stairs.
On the 86th floor, Ling Young sprang into action, as well. She took an elevator down to the sky lobby on the 78th floor where she waited for an express elevator to the street.
And then United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into their own skyscraper….
When she could finally stand up, Young took note that almost everyone around her was dead. She and a few other survivors huddled together waiting for help. And that’s when Welles Crowther, an equities trader and volunteer firefighter, burst into the room carrying a young African American woman on his back. He authoritatively gave instructions for them to follow him, and he took them to a stairway that was hidden behind debris and smoke. He led them down 15 flights of burning metal until they reached an evacuation point, and then Crowther raced back up the same stairway to the 78th floor.
When Crowther arrived for his second rescue attempt, the smoke was so heavy that he was wearing his favorite red bandana around his face. That’s all Judy Wein remembered: a masked man burst into the room, led them to safety, and then went back into the smoke and flames yet again.
That was the last time anybody saw Welles Crowther alive.
Adding to the horror the two women experienced that day was the fact that neither of them knew who their hero was. They didn’t even have a truly accurate description; between the heavy smoke and the red bandana-covered face, neither Wein nor Young could identify their savior.
But almost a decade later, The New York Times ran an article that changed all that. It featured a description of the man wearing a red bandana, and it led Crowther’s mom to Wein and Young. The two women – still recovering from the effects of that fateful day – gave their accounts of the hectic morning. Every detail collaborated an overwhelming truth: these women shared a common savior.
It didn’t surprise the ladies to hear Crowther’s father tell them his son felt “stuck behind a desk” in his job and that he’d wanted to join the New York Fire Department, or the CIA or FBI, so he could help people. But perhaps God had Welles Crowther right where He wanted him that terrible day.
Young and Wein think so.
“Without him, we would be sitting there, waiting until the building came down,” reflected Ling Young. Wein agrees. “If he hadn’t come back, I wouldn’t have made it. People can live 100 years and not have the compassion, the wherewithal to do what he did.”
Welles’ father easily sums up his son’s actions that fateful day: “He didn’t live long enough to be head of a corporation or do good works or endow a museum. But what he did on September 11, that’s his legacy.”
And what a legacy it is.
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(Special thanks to Sonja Clark for this story. Resource cataloged by David R Smith)