President Obama Dedicates the 9/11 Museum to the Man in the Red Bandanna

Read Obama’s full remarks from the event.

National Journal
Emma Roller and Brian Resnick
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Emma Roller Brian Resnick
May 15, 2014, 7:17 a.m.

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In the foot­print of Ground Zero, the site of the tragedy that killed more than 2,000 people, Pres­id­ent Obama and New York polit­ic­al lead­ers gathered to re­mind us that the emo­tion­al weight of Sept. 11, 2001, still hasn’t lif­ted.

They, along with hun­dreds of people, were gathered to ded­ic­ate the 9/11 Mu­seum, which opens to the pub­lic Monday.

The ded­ic­a­tion began with a chil­dren’s choir singing the song “Some­where” from the mu­sic­al West Side Story — their voices echo­ing in the cav­ernous room bordered by the walls that formed the ori­gin­al bed­rock of the Twin Towers.

At the event were Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton, along with former New York City May­or Rudy Gi­uliani, cur­rent May­or Bill de Bla­sio, New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo, and New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie. Not­ably ab­sent from the event was George W. Bush.

Read Pres­id­ent Obama’s full re­marks from the event:

May­or Bloomberg, Gov­ernor Cuomo, honored guests, fam­il­ies of the fallen: In those aw­ful mo­ments after the South Tower was hit, some of the in­jured huddled in the wreck­age of the 78th floor. The fires were spread­ing. The air was filled with smoke. It was dark. They could barely see. It seemed as if there was no way out. And then there came a voice — clear, calm, say­ing he had found the stairs. A young man, in his 20s, strong, emerged from the smoke, and over his nose and his mouth, he wore a red handker­chief. He called for fire ex­tin­guish­ers to fight back the flames. He at­ten­ded to the wounded. He led those sur­viv­ors down the stairs to safety, and car­ried a wo­man on his shoulders down 17 flights. Then, he went back, back up all those flights, then back down again, bring­ing more wounded to safety, un­til that mo­ment when the tower fell. They didn’t know his name. They didn’t know where he came from, but they knew their lives had been saved by the man in the red bandanna.

Again, May­or Bloomberg, dis­tin­guished guests, May­or DeBla­sio, Gov­ernors Christie and Cuomo, the fam­il­ies and sur­viv­ors of that day, to all those who re­spon­ded with such cour­age, on be­half of Michelle and my­self and the Amer­ic­an people, it is an hon­or for us to join in your memor­ies. To re­call and to re­flect, but above all, to re­af­firm the true spir­it of 9/11 — love, com­pas­sion, sac­ri­fice — and to en­shrine it forever in the heart of our na­tion.

Michelle and I just had the op­por­tun­ity to join with oth­ers on a vis­it with some of the sur­viv­ors and fam­il­ies — men and wo­men who in­spire us all — and we had the chance to vis­it some of the ex­hib­its. And I think all who come here will find it to be a pro­found and mov­ing ex­per­i­ence. I want to ex­press our deep grat­it­ude to every­body who was in­volved in this great un­der­tak­ing, for bring­ing us to this day, for giv­ing us this sac­red place of heal­ing and of hope. Here at this me­mori­al, at this mu­seum, we come to­geth­er. We stand in the foot­prints of two mighty towers, graced by the rush of etern­al wa­ters. We look in­to the faces of nearly 3,000 in­no­cent souls, men and wo­men and chil­dren of every race, every creed, from every corner of the world. We can touch their names and hear their voices and glimpse the small items that speak to the beauty of their lives — a wed­ding ring, a hel­met, a shin­ing badge. Here we tell their story so that gen­er­a­tions yet un­born will nev­er for­get. Of cowork­ers who led oth­ers to safety. The pas­sen­gers who stormed the cock­pit. Our men and wo­men in uni­form who rushed in­to an in­ferno. Our first re­spon­ders who charged up those stairs. A gen­er­a­tion of ser­vice mem­bers — our 9/11 gen­er­a­tion — who have served with hon­or in more than a dec­ade of war. A na­tion that stands tall and united and un­afraid be­cause no act of ter­ror can match the strength or the char­ac­ter of our coun­try. Like the great wall and bed­rock that em­brace us today, noth­ing can ever break us. Noth­ing can change who we are as Amer­ic­ans.

On that Septem­ber morn­ing, Al­lis­on Crowth­er lost her son, Welles. Months later, she was read­ing the news­pa­per, an art­icle about those fi­nal minutes in the towers. Sur­viv­ors re­coun­ted how a young man wear­ing a red handker­chief had led them to safety. And in that mo­ment, Al­lis­on knew. Ever since he was a boy, her son had al­ways car­ried a red handker­chief. Her son, Welles, was the man in the red bandanna. Welles was just 24 years old, with a broad smile and a bright fu­ture. He worked in the South Tower on the 104th floor. He had a big laugh, a joy of life, and dreams of see­ing the world. He worked in fin­ance, but he had also been a vo­lun­teer fire­fight­er. And after the planes hit, he put on that bandanna and spent his fi­nal mo­ments sav­ing oth­ers. Three years ago this month, after our SEALS made sure that justice was done, I came to Ground Zero. And among the fam­il­ies here that day was Al­lis­on Crowth­er, and she told me about Welles and his fear­less spir­it. And she showed me a handker­chief like the one he wore that morn­ing. And today, as we saw on our tour, one of his red handker­chiefs is on dis­play in this mu­seum. And from this day for­ward, all those who come here will have a chance to know the sac­ri­fice of a young man who, like so many, gave his life so oth­ers might live. Those we lost live on in us — in the fam­il­ies who love them still, in the friends who re­mem­ber them al­ways, and in a na­tion that will hon­or them now and forever. And today it is my hon­or to in­tro­duce two wo­men forever bound by that day united in their de­term­in­a­tion to keep alive the true spir­it of 9/11: Welles Crowth­er’s moth­er, Al­lis­on, and one of those he saved, Ling Young.

Al­lis­on Crowth­er and Ling Young ap­proached the po­di­um hold­ing hands. Crowth­er spoke of her son’s bravery.

“For us he lives on in the people he helped and in the memory of what he chose to do that Tues­day in Septem­ber,” she said. “When people come here and see Welles’s red bandanna, they will re­mem­ber how people helped each oth­er that day, and they will be in­spired to do the same…. This is the true leg­acy of Septem­ber 11th.”

De Bla­sio com­mem­or­ated the gran­ite stair­case that hun­dreds of 9/11 sur­viv­ors walked down — the last rem­nant found above the Ground Zero wreck­age and the “the last and long-sought path to sur­viv­al.” That stair­case now stands in the mu­seum, in between a new stair­case and an es­cal­at­or to the bot­tom floor.

Kay­la Ber­ger­on was one of the sur­viv­ors who walked down those gran­ite steps to safety. “They were all that sep­ar­ated us from the dev­ast­a­tion be­hind us and life in front of us,” she told the audi­ence. “Those 38 steps mean everything.”

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