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Impossible To Forget: 9/11 First Responder Reflects On Time At Ground Zero

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Around the country, Americans paused to remember the lives lost on September 11th, 2001. Owego marked the 18th anniversary of the attacks with a ceremony at the 9/11 memorial at Hickories Park. 

Standing in front of the metal beams taken from the World Trade Center, officials, community members, and first responders shared their stories of where they were on the day that everything changed. Those stories were accompanied by the reminder to "never forget." For New York State Police Sergeant Martin Kopcho, forgetting isn't an option.

Kopcho was sent to Ground Zero weeks after the attack as part of the recovery effort. 18 years later, while retelling his story, Kopcho gets choked up, saying "I'm sorry, it still gets me." Kopcho describes how eerie New York City looked when he arrived. 

"On the George Washington Bridge coming into Manhattan, you could see the smoke coming up the island and all the lights at Ground Zero," says Kopcho. 

Kopcho says the lights were from all the first responders who were there working through the night. 

"Digging in through with buckets and barrels, still looking for the recovery of those who were lost," says Kopcho.

Kopcho says it took a long time to come to terms with all he saw and experienced. At first he didn't know how to describe what he felt while standing in the middle of all the debris. Now, he says this: "I just remember feeling crowded... I'm standing in the street with no one else around me. I just felt crowded. And I realized it was the spirits of the people that were there that were lost and they were watching us. Encouraging us. It made a difference. It felt like we were doing something that was important."

18 years later, Kopcho says it's still hard to talk about, but it's important that he does. He says anyone who lived through the tragedy should be passing down their stories to the next generation, "so that we never forget."

Tioga County residents were also remembering one of their own on Wednesday. Apalachin native Derek Statkevicus was working on the 86th floor of the South Tower when it collapsed. Statkevicus was 30 years old at the time with a 1-year-old son and another on the way. Friends remembered him during the ceremony as a high achiever, succeeding in whatever he put his mind to. Statkevicus was a graduate of Vestal High School and Ithaca College.