9/11 attacks in U.S. remembered today with ceremonies, appeals to ‘never forget’

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. are being commemorated today with mournful ceremonies, volunteering, appeals to “never forget,” and by raising attention to the extended toll the co-ordinated attacks have taken on responders.

Relatives of victims of the attacks assembled at Ground Zero in Manhattan in New York City, where the observance Wednesday began with a moment of silence and tolling bells at 8:46 a.m. ET — the moment 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, who lost her husband Joel to the attacks, said at the Ground Zero ceremony, which she attends every year. 

“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, N.Y. 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.”

A flag hangs on the Pentagon before a ceremony in observance of the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

U.S. 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, Pa.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush, 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 attack on U.S. 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 in New York City. “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.”

The 18th-anniversary ceremonies centre on remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed when hijacked planes rammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville. Twenty-six Canadians were among those killed.

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 World Trade Center’s twin towers fell.

Growing awareness for post-9/11 health issues

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 US 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.

Retired FDNY firefighter and 9/11 first responder Rob Serra pauses at the 9/11 Memorial Glade, which honours the first responders who are sick or have died from exposure to toxins in the aftermath of the attacks and recovery efforts. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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 World 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 rescue, recovery and cleanup workers who became ill, 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 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 U.S. continue to volunteer at food banks, schools, home-building projects, park cleanups and other charitable endeavours on and near the anniversary.

Read more at CBC.ca