As the first of the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, retired FDNY Lt. Walter F. Malone of Commack jumped into his car, drove straight to the Commack Fire Department and boarded a truck with another firefighter to Ground Zero, where he worked on the pile for two months, his grandson said Saturday.
Malone died Aug. 31, 2017, of 9/11-related respiratory illness, his son Michael said. He was 83.
Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks, Malone's grandson Sean Malone had a request for the Town of Huntington: that Calvert Avenue, the Commack Street where his grandfather lived most of his life, be renamed “Lt. Walter F. Malone Way" in his honor. On Saturday, town officials unveiled the sign at the corner of Calvert and Sheldon Place.
Just Friday night, Michael and his son Sean, both of Commack, repainted the sign's pole. "We knew Mom would be telling my dad, 'You can't put your name on that thing, it's all rusty. Get out there,' " Michael Malone said. "We did what Wally would do."
Walter Malone began his career of service as a corporal in the Army, where he served in the Korean War. He joined the FDNY Rescue Co. 2 in Brooklyn as a firefighter in about 1960 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1978.
He retired after 34 years, but his work did not end there.
Malone stayed in lower Manhattan for three days straight after 9/11, helping to search for the two sons of longtime friend FDNY Capt. John Vigiano Sr. — one, a member of the FDNY and the other of the NYPD — for other fallen brethren and for civilian casualties. He returned every day for two months to continue offering his aid.
“He was bigger than life,” Michael Malone said. “There wasn’t a person that walked past the house that he didn’t talk to or help out. Always — no matter who they were or where they were from.”
Every Wednesday, from the time he was in his late 60s, Malone volunteered as a docent at the New York City Fire Museum, which sent a letter to Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci in support of the street renaming. On what became known as "Wally Wednesdays," Malone would meet firefighters from Australia to Israel to the U.K., Sean Malone said. He’d correspond with his overseas friends for years after, some of whom had come back to visit him. A portrait of Malone by Scottish artist Alexander Millar hangs in the museum today.
Malone’s three children, 10 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, FDNY Engine 214 and FDNY Rescue 2 brothers, Brooklyn Breakfast Group, New York City Fire Museum and Commack Fire Department friends attended the unveiling Saturday.
“I think when anyone comes to this corner, they’re going to want to know who Lieutenant Malone was,” Suffolk County Legis. Susan A. Berland said. “They’re going to ask those questions and they’re going to find out that this was a selfless man. … This is the epitome of an American hero.”