Rosemary Cain held a large sign emblazoned with a picture of her late son, FDNY firefighter George "Georgie" Cain, as she recounted his simple joys in life.

Golfing and skiing. Being an uncle and a "happy bachelor."

As the memories poured out yesterday afternoon, so did a mother's grief. Tears welled in her eyes at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, on the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that felled the Twin Towers and changed the world.

"It doesn't get any easier," Rosemary Cain of Massapequa said of her enduring sorrow. Her 35-year-old son perished in the rubble of the World Trade Center. "We live with it every day," she said. "When the anniversary comes and all the emails start . . . it just brings it out so much more. You just wake up and say, 'How could it possibly be 14 years without my son?' "

More than 1,000 people -- fewer than in previous years -- gathered at Ground Zero, now a gleaming memorial and museum, to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

The solemn ceremony began with uniformed officers carrying an American flag into the memorial plaza, followed by bagpipers and the playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner." Then came the traditional tolling of bells and reading of victims' names by family members and friends.

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As some of the names were recited, voices became thick with emotion. Tears were shed, as they have been every year since 9/11.

Among those attending were Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, former mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stepped out of the White House for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when the first of four hijacked passenger planes hit, striking the World Trade Center's north tower.

Other 9/11 anniversary ceremonies were held on Long Island and at the Pentagon, where one hijacked plane crashed, and the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. A passenger revolt downed Flight 93 before it could hit the White House or Capitol.

At the Manhattan ceremony, Josephine Smith read aloud her late father's name -- FDNY firefighter Kevin Smith of Mastic.

"It was a real proud moment," Smith, 35, of Queens, said afterward.

In honor of her father, she became an FDNY firefighter herself. Friday, she proudly wore her blue uniform.

Two sisters -- Vicki Tureski, 61, of Southampton, and Laraine Angeline, 64, of East Setauket -- honored their brother-in-law, Steve Pollicino, who died in the attacks.

He was 48, a married father of two who lived in Plainview and worked at Cantor Fitzgerald at the World Trade Center.

Pollicino's wife, Jane, died after a stroke two years ago, but the sisters couldn't imagine missing the anniversary ceremony.

"You come on the plaza and you see people holding up big, huge pictures," Angeline said. "Every year I see those same pictures, and you give [the people] a hug."

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It was the first 9/11 observance for NormaJean Adams, 27, of Staten Island.

She was 13 when her father, FDNY Lt. Charles Joseph "Chuck" Margiotta, was killed in the attacks. He had worked the night before in Manhattan and was on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge headed home when he heard of the catastrophe.

"He turned right back around, hopped on with Rescue 5 and the rest, as they say, is history," said Adams, a teacher who recently married.

She and her family had stayed away from 9/11 observances in the past. The emotions were still too raw. But then, one day, she finally felt ready to join the throngs of victims' relatives, survivors and recovery workers.

Friday, she read her father's name aloud and, addressing him, mentioned that she had "married a cop." While he couldn't walk her down the aisle, she said, her brother filled in.

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Afterward, strangers approached. "That was a gutsy job," one man told her.

Said a uniformed firefighter: "I knew your father; he was a very nice man."

Adams, suddenly embarrassed, told him, "I forgot to say 'FDNY.'"

"Don't worry," he said. "We all knew."

Tom and Josephine Acquaviva of Wayne, New Jersey, came for their son, Paul Acquaviva, a Columbia Law School graduate who was on the 103rd floor of the north tower.

The 29-year-old was a vice president of corporate development at Cantor Fitzgerald. He was married and had a daughter, Sarah, 2 1/2. His wife was pregnant and gave birth three months after 9/11 to their son, whom she named Paul in tribute.

"He was a terrific son," Tom Acquaviva, 81, said. "You couldn't ask for a better son."

Acquaviva, a photo of his smiling son around his neck, said the remains were never found. Ground Zero is his son's grave site.

"We come every year and the crowds keep getting less," he said. "But my wife and I, as long as we're breathing, we'll be here."

With Maria Alvarez,

John Valenti and AP