U.S. to commemorate 9/11 as its aftermath extends and evolves

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans are commemorating 9/11 with mournful ceremonies, volunteering, appeals to "never forget" and rising attention to the terror attacks' extended toll on responders.

A crowd of victims' relatives is expected at Ground Zero Wednesday, while President Donald Trump is scheduled to join an observance at the Pentagon. Vice President Mike Pence is to speak at the third attack site, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Former President George W. Bush, the commander-in-chief at the time of the 2001 attacks, is due at an afternoon wreath-laying at the Pentagon.

Eighteen years after the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, the nation is still grappling with the aftermath 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.

"People say, 'Why do you stand here, year after year?'" Chundera Epps, a sister of Sept. 11 victim Christopher Epps, said at last year's ceremony at the World Trade Center. "Because soldiers are still dying for our freedom. First responders are still dying and being ill."

"We can't forget. Life won't let us forget," she added.

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Newspaper headlines from around the world 24 hours after 9/11
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Newspaper headlines from around the world 24 hours after 9/11

The New York Times

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New York Post

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New York Daily News

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The Washington Post

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USA Today

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The Atlanta Constitution

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The Los Angeles Times

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Detroit Free Press

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The San Francisco Examiner

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Chicago Tribune

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Newsday

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People

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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Canada's The Globe and Mail

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London's The Daily Telegraph

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London's The Times

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Melbourne's Herald Sun

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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, where moments of silence and tolling bells mark the moments when the aircraft crashed and the trade center's twin towers fell.

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.

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Rarely seen photos from 9/11
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Rarely seen photos from 9/11

President George W. Bush watches news coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center as he is briefed in a classroom at Emma. E Booker Elementary School on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

In a photo taken two days after the attacks, the extensive damage to the Pentagon can be seen.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill

Late into the night on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon continues to smoke. 

Photo Credit: Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Houlihan

A clock frozen at the time of impact inside the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

A scorched fifth-floor office desk from inside the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

More damage from the fifth-floor of the Pentagon.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry A. Simmons

President George W. Bush talks on the phone aboard Air-force One as his senior staff talks nearby. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

George W. Bush converses with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice inside the President's Emergency Operations Center on the day of the attacks. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice listen intently during meetings in the President's Emergency Operations Center. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

More views from inside the President's Emergency Operations Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

Smoke billows from site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Paul Morse, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

New York National Guard soldiers from the 69th Infantry Division and New York City firefighters work together to clear rubble from the ground zero. 

Photo Credit: New York National Guard photo

A New York National Guard soldier at ground zero. 

Photo Credit: New York National Guard photo

Secretary of State Colin Powell from inside the President's Emergency Operations Center. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney converse inside the President's Emergency Operations Center on September 11, 2001. 

Photo Credit: National Archives photo

One day after the attack's President George W. Bush greets rescue workers, firefighters, and military who were on site at the Pentagon. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

The President thanks Firefighters, rescue workers, and military personnel at ground zero. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

President George W. Bush holds hands with his father during the service for America's National Day of Prayer and Remembrance on September 14, 2001. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) hang the largest authorized flag for the military over the side of the Pentagon as cleanup and recovery continue after the attacks. 

Photo Credit: Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Pendergrass

Taken on Feb. 8, 2004, the widow of pilot Jason Dahl who was flying United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, holds a flag honoring those who sacrificed their lives on 9/11.  The plane is believed to have been en route to the White House but crashed in Somerset Pennsylvania.

Photo Credit: Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Darin Overstreet

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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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