On Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. Naval Officer Rina Percoco was stationed at Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Fla. She was preparing to embark on a scheduled two-week training stint at sea aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance.
“I was running around on the ship early that morning, preparing to go out. So I was aware of the news and at some point later in the day I was told the towers fell,” Percoco said. “I told people they had the wrong information, it was not possible the towers I had seen all my life were gone. It wasn’t until hours later when we started seeing some images that it really hit me.”
Later in the day, the USS Spruance was reassigned to protect the waters outside of Washington, D.C. for two weeks. The Staten Island-born Percoco says, while the assignment was important for national security, it left her feeling incomplete and helpless because she was unable to come back to aid of the area she grew up in.
“So I was proud to be doing this work, but I felt very frustrated that I couldn’t come to immediately help my hometown,” she said. “I wish I could have done more.”
Eleven years later, Percoco would get her chance. After completing a five-year stint in the Navy, she moved back to Staten Island. By early 2013 she was looking to leave the tourism and travel industry and saw the opportunity to become a visitor services host at the 9/11 Memorial as a way for her to finally help New York heal.
“After those years of frustration over not being able to do anything for New York, I feel in some ways I am doing that now. It has helped me heal some old wounds,” she said. “I have always kept tabs on the memorial, working in the travel industry. This is certainly more than just a job for me, it is a place where I could give back to people.”
Percoco had moved back to New York in 2005 largely to be with her family. One of her early memories as a child is a visit to the original Twin Towers, where her uncle worked in the 1980s. She still has a volcanic rock taken from a planter at the World Trade Center plaza.
When she was younger, she admits to taking for granted the Manhattan skyline, which she could see from her home. Today, she appreciates the views of World Trade Center rebuilding on her daily commute to the memorial on the Staten Island ferry.
Percoco is one of several veterans on staff at the 9/11 Memorial. Veterans are being honored this week in a Salute to Service on the 9/11 Memorial plaza.
By Anthony Guido, 9/11 Memorial Communications Manager