WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP/WJZ) — Americans commemorated 9/11 with solemn ceremonies and vows Wednesday to "never forget" 18 years after the deadliest terror attacks on American soil.
President Donald Trump has joined the military in observing a moment of silence at the Pentagon for the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
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The moment of silence is traditionally observed at 9:37 a.m. — the exact time when a plane crashed into the Defense Department's headquarters on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 184 people. But this year's ceremony ran late, and the anniversary was observed at 9:47 a.m.
The commander in chief told families that "this is your anniversary of personal and permanent loss" and he said that their "loved ones will never ever be forgotten."
When he arrived at the Pentagon, he was greeted by Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The president placed a wreath of red, white and blue flowers at the memorial site.
The ceremony is underway to remember the 40 passengers and crew who died after terrorists commandeered Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.
Vice President Mike Pence is crediting the crew and passengers who fought back against hijackers on 9/11 with protecting the U.S.
Pence spoke at the commemoration Wednesday of the hijacked Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, killing 40 passengers and crew.
The Flight 93 National Memorial marks the site near Shanksville where the plane went down at 10:03 a.m., after passengers fought back. Officials concluded the attackers had aimed the Boeing 757 toward Washington, D.C.
Pence says the memory of those killed in the crash is "carved into the hearts and memories of the American people."
The terrorists also flew two planes into the World Trade Center skyscrapers in New York and a fourth into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
First responders in Parkville, Maryland also gathered for a bell tolling ceremony to honor the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11.
In New York, a crowd of victims' relatives assembled at ground zero, where the observance began Wednesday with a moment of silence and tolling bells at 8:46 a.m. — the moment when a hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center's north tower.
"As long as the city will gift us this moment, I will be here," Margie Miller said at the ground zero ceremony, which she attends every year. She lost her husband, Joel.
"Because I feel like if we don't come, they don't need to do it. And I want people to remember," said Miller, of Baldwin, on Long Island. After so many years of anniversaries, she has come to know other victims' relatives, and to appreciate being with them.
"There's smiles in between the tears that say we didn't do this journey on our own. That we were here for each other. And that's the piece that I think we get from being here," she said.
The nation is still grappling with the aftermath of 9/11 at ground zero, in Congress and beyond. The attacks' aftermath is visible from airport security checkpoints to Afghanistan. A rocket exploded at the U.S. embassy as the anniversary began in Afghanistan, where a post-9/11 invasion has become America's longest war.
The anniversary ceremonies center on remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed when hijacked planes rammed into the trade center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001. All those victims' names are read aloud at the ground zero ceremony.
But there has been growing awareness in recent years of the suffering of another group of people tied to the tragedy: firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to the wreckage and the toxins unleashed in it.
While research continues into whether those illnesses are tied to 9/11 toxins, a victims compensation fund for people with potentially Sept. 11-related health problems has awarded more than $5.5 billion so far. Over 51,000 people have applied.
After years of legislative gridlock, dwindling money in the fund and fervent activism by ailing first responders and their advocates, Congress this summer made sure the fund won't run dry . Trump, a Republican and a New Yorker who was in the city on 9/11, signed the measure in July.
The sick gained new recognition this year at the memorial plaza at ground zero, where the new 9/11 Memorial Glade was dedicated this spring.
The tribute features six large stacks of granite inlaid with salvaged trade center steel, with a dedication "to those whose actions in our time of need led to their injury, sickness, and death." No one is named specifically.
Some 9/11 memorials elsewhere already included sickened rescue, recovery and cleanup workers, and there is a remembrance wall entirely focused on them in Nesconset, on Long Island. But those who fell ill or were injured, and their families, say having a tribute at ground zero carries special significance.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Monday that its 9/11 memorial will close next week for electrical and lighting work. The project, expected to take until late May, includes repairs to lighting glitches in the shallow reflecting pools under the memorial benches.
Sept. 11 is known not only as a day for remembrance and patriotism, but also as a day of service. People around the country continue to volunteer at food banks, schools, home-building projects, park cleanups and other charitable endeavors on and near the anniversary.
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