Joe Valiante spent 35 years with the Westport Fire Department. He fought some of the town’s toughest fires, and rose through the ranks to become assistant chief.
When he was not working, the 1961 Staples High School graduate rode with New York City’s Rescue 1. Based on 43rd Street near the Intrepid, the elite company faces situations seldom seen in Westport.
But nothing could have prepared them for September 11, 2001.
The next day, Valiante rode with them to the still-smoldering World Trade Center. For a week he worked the bucket brigade, hauling material from the site.
Valiante was there 4 days later, when President Bush addressed the volunteers through a bullhorn.
Valiante was back a year later too, on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. In fact, he was in the honor guard (with fellow local firefighter Todd Denke). After the ceremony, Bush stopped to chat.
Valiante then gave the president his Westport assistant fire chief badge.
The next year, Valiante retired. From time to time, he wondered what became of his gift.
Last January, Valiante took his grandson to Trump Tower. They watched a parade of famous people — Ben Carson, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Joe Manchin and others — head through the lobby to meet the president-elect.
Fox News correspondent John Roberts was there as well. Valiante asked if he knew what happens to the gifts people give to presidents. Roberts told him to contact the George W. Bush Presidential Library, at Southern Methodist University.
Valiante emailed the curator. Then he forgot about it.
A month ago, a library official got back to Valiante. She knew exactly where his Westport badge was.
It’s in the permanent collection.
Joe Valiante has not been down to Dallas to see it. But he doesn’t have to.
Just knowing it’s there makes him proud.