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People From Near And Far Pay Respects To 9/11 Victims At Ground Zero Ahead Of 20-Year Commemoration

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As we approach 20 years since the 9/11 terror attacks, we not only look back at the lives lost but look forward at how our world has changed.

President Joe Biden will be among those attending the 9/11 Memorial and Museum commemoration Saturday. The reflecting pools have been cordoned off ahead of the ceremony, as families get set to mark their return after many stayed home last year because of the pandemic.

CBS2's Kevin Rincon spoke with people from all walks of life who came to reflect Friday.

Some left flowers and thank you notes along the FDNY Memorial Wall at Ground Zero. Others took a moment to honor those lost.

For Harry Roland, who refers to himself as a street historian, the memorial is a second home.

"It's been here since 2006. I've been taking care of it every day," Roland told Rincon.

He not only cleans the wall, but he also tries to make sure people appreciate why it's there.

"Sometimes I just blurt it out, 'Look at the wall, why is it there, feel it, touch it, put your hands all over it,'" he said.

He said it's those kind of interactions that get people engaged with history. He was there 20 years ago when the towers collapsed.

"I run to the Brooklyn Bridge. Everyone had the same idea. I can't even get on the walkway. Got to get out of here, go to the river," he remembered. "I run to the river, there's ferry boats there. Some people walking by, 'where the boats going?' Get on the boat, let's get out of here."

Complete Coverage9/11 Twenty Years Later

While some tried to get to safety that day, in the immediate aftermath, others wanted to help.

"I served on that pile only for a week, but it's still in me," said Lee Jean Heller, visiting from Moraine, Ohio. "As soon as I got on the pile, we pulled 18 bodies of firemen."

For Jean Heller, she remembers vividly what it looked and sounded like working to sift through the debris. She said she left feeling inspired by what she saw.

"For your city to come together this strong, it just proves what you are, it just proves what you are, working together and helping one another, just is amazing to me," she told Rincon.

Then, there are others paying their respects at Ground Zero who have never been there.

"We came yesterday, and it was raining, and I said, 'heaven is crying,'" said Charlotte Hartley, visiting from Indianapolis. "To see the heroes around, the Port Authority Police, I am awe struck and very impressed at how they made this such a monument."

As others walked by the area to take it all in, some said it feels like hollowed grounds.

CBS2 and CBSN New York will pay tribute with a special presentation, "Never Forgotten: 9/11 20 Years Later," at 7 p.m.

CBS2's Kevin Rincon contributed to this report.

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