NEW YORK — Americans commemorated 9/11 with solemn ceremonies and vows Wednesday to "never forget" 18 years after the deadliest terror attack on American soil.
Victims' relatives assembled at ground zero, where the observance began with a moment of silence and the tolling of bells at 8:46 a.m. — 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, said at the ceremony, which she attends every year. "I want people to remember."
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.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump led a moment of silence on the White House South Lawn and then were expected to join an observance at the Pentagon. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to speak at the third crash site, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Former President George W. Bush, commander in chief at the time of the 2001 attacks, was due at an afternoon wreath-laying at the Pentagon.
The nation is still grappling with the aftermath of 9/11. The effects are visible from airport security checkpoints to Afghanistan, where the post-9/11 U.S. invasion has become America's longest war.
Earlier this week, Trump called off a secret meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghan government leaders and declared the peace talks "dead." As the Sept. 11 anniversary began in Afghanistan, a rocket exploded at the U.S. Embassy just after midnight.
The anniversary ceremonies center on remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed when hijacked planes slammed 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 by loved ones — now, quite often, ones too young to have known their lost relatives.
"Uncle Joey, I wish I got to know you," Joseph Henry said of his uncle and namesake, firefighter Joseph Patrick Henry. "I know that you're watching over us right now."
Others made a point of spotlighting 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.
"As we honor and remember all those who died on 9/11 and their families, let us not forget the first responders who have died since 9/11 and their families," Maureen Pulia said after reading names at ground zero. Her cousin Thomas Anthony Casoria, a firefighter, was killed there.
A compensation fund for people with potentially Sept. 11-related health problems has awarded more than $5.5 billion so far. More than 51,000 people have applied. Over the summer, Congress made sure the fund won't run dry.
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.
Sept. 11 is known not only as a day for remembrance and patriotism, but also as a day of service. People around the country volunteer at food banks, schools, home-building projects, park cleanups and other charitable endeavors on and near the anniversary.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed.