By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau
NEW YORK — President Barack Obama praised the love, compassion and sacrifice that Americans displayed amid tragedy as the true “spirit of 9/11” on Thursday as he helped dedicate a memorial built on the site of that day’s terror attacks.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, revealed the “character of our nation,” Obama said, speaking in a hushed tone to a crowd of survivors, family members and first responders who gathered at the scene in Lower Manhattan to mark the moment.
“Nothing can ever break us,” Obama said, recalling the bravery and heroism of people who spent their final moments helping others.
The new memorial is filled with photos, keepsakes and stories of those who died that day — a broken watch, a dusty helmet, a shiny badge. Obama toured the displays with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, then paid his respects by retelling one story of the day.
No one who was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center survived its fall.
But before the collapse, a young man named Welles Crowther on the 78th floor led at least a dozen people to the set of stairs he had found in the dust and smoke.
One woman couldn’t make it down the stairs, so the 24-year-old equities trader hoisted her onto his shoulders and carried her, as the president recounted the story.
Shielding his face with the red bandanna he often carried with him, Crowther kept working to lead people to safety until the tower gave way. He died in the tragedy.
“They knew their lives had been saved by the man in the red bandanna,” Obama said of those who lived to recount Crowther’s final acts of courage.
“To all who responded with such courage,” Obama said, “it is an honor to join in your memories.”
“The spirit of 9/11,” he said, is not terror and hatred, but “love, compassion, sacrifice.”
Afterward, Crowther’s mother, Alison, stepped onto the stage with the woman her son had carried to safety that day. The two women held hands and then hugged the president.
When visitors tour the site in the years to come, she said, she hopes they will remember “how people helped each other that day.”
Alison Crowther said her son “lives on in the people he helped and in the memory of what he chose to do that day.”
©afp.com / John Angelillo