(By Jennifer Peltz, AP)

 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.

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“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 Centre. “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.

The anniversary ceremonies centre on remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed when hijacked planes rammed into the trade centre, 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 centre’s twin towers fell.

FILE- In this May 15, 2015 file photo, visitors gather near the pools at the 9/11 Memorial in New York. As they have done 17 times before, a crowd of victims’ relatives is expected at the site on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019 to observe the anniversary the deadliest terror attack on American soil. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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.

Visitors to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., participate in a sunset memorial service on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, as the nation prepares to mark the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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 centre 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 clean-up 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 clean-ups and other charitable endeavours on and near the anniversary.

FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo, smoke rises from the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center after hijacked planes crashed into the towers in New York City. Sept. 11 victims’ relatives are greeting the news of President Donald Trump’s now-canceled plan for secret talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents with mixed feelings. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
A visitor to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., views the Wall of Names on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, as the nation prepares to mark the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Kiersten Haub, from left, Erika Starke, and Michael Haub, family members of New York firefighter Michael Haub, attend a second funeral service for him in Franklin Square, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. The firefighter from New York’s Long Island who died in the World Trade Center attacks is being remembered for a second time on the eve of the 18th anniversary of 9/11. Friends and family gathered at the memorial service for Haub on Tuesday in Franklin Square. Last week, the New York City medical examiner identified more of his remains recovered at ground zero. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
FILE- In this Sept. 9, 2015 file photo, visitors look at the waterfalls at the World Trade Center Memorial in New York. As they have done 17 times before, a crowd of victims’ relatives is expected at the site on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019 to observe the anniversary the deadliest terror attack on American soil. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
New York Fire Department members attend a second funeral service for FDNY firefighter Michael Haub in Franklin Square, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. The firefighter from Long Island who died in the World Trade Center attacks is being remembered for a second time on the eve of the 18th anniversary of 9/11. Friends and family gathered at the memorial service for Haub on Tuesday in Franklin Square. Last week, the New York City medical examiner identified more of his remains recovered at ground zero. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Norma Molina, of San Antonio, Texas, leaves flowers by the names of firefighters from Engine 33 at the September 11 Memorial, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in New York. Her boyfriend Robert Edward Evans, a member of Engine 33, was killed in the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
New York Fire Department members attend a second funeral service for FDNY firefighter Michael Haub in Franklin Square, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. The firefighter from New York’s Long Island who died in the World Trade Center attacks is being remembered for a second time on the eve of the 18th anniversary of 9/11. Friends and family gathered at the memorial service for Haub on Tuesday in Franklin Square. Last week, the New York City medical examiner identified more of his remains recovered at ground zero. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo, firefighters work beneath the destroyed mullions, the vertical struts that once faced the outer walls of the World Trade Center towers, after a terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York. Sept. 11 victims’ relatives are greeting the news of President Donald Trump’s now-canceled plan for secret talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents with mixed feelings. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
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Author: ANA Newswire