NEW YORK – The U.S. marked the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with the solemn roll call of the dead Sunday but couldn’t keep the presidential campaign from intruding on what is traditionally a politics-free moment of remembrance.
Hillary Clinton left about 90 minutes into the ground zero ceremony after feeling “overheated,” her campaign said. Video showed her knees buckling as three people helped the 68-year-old Democrat into a van amid the muggy 80-degree heat.
Donald Trump, who has repeatedly questioned whether Clinton is physically fit to be president, was also at the ceremony for a time and left after she did. Asked about the incident, Trump said only: “I don’t know anything about it.”
The episode cast a political shadow over an event that has tried to keep the focus on remembrance by inviting politicians but barring them from speaking. Both candidates followed the custom of suspending all TV ads for the day.
The politics of the moment weren’t entirely absent from the ceremony, where some victims’ relatives pleaded for the nation to look past its differences, expressed hopes for peace or called on the next commander-in-chief to ensure the country’s safety.
Joseph Quinn, who lost his brother, Jimmy, appealed to Americans to regain the sense of unity that welled up after the terror attacks.
“I know, in our current political environment, it may feel we’re divided. Don’t believe it,” said Quinn, who served in the military in Iraq after Sept. 11. “Engage with your community.”
Nearly 3,000 people died when terrorists slammed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.
Organizers estimated 8,000 people gathered Sunday at the lower Manhattan spot where the twin towers once stood. They listened to the nearly four-hour recitation of the names of those killed.
“It doesn’t get easier. The grief never goes away. You don’t move forward – it always stays with you,” Tom Acquaviva, who lost his son, Paul.
For Dorothy Esposito, the passage of time feels “like 15 seconds.” Her son, Frankie, was killed.
About 1,000 people gathered for a name-reading observance in Shanksville. At a Pentagon ceremony, President Barack Obama praised military members and others who helped the U.S. fight terrorism, urged Americans not to let their enemies divide them and called the country’s diversity one of its greatest strengths.
James Johnson was at ground zero for the first time since he worked on rescue and recovery in early 2002 as a New York police officer. The 9/11 museum and memorial plaza, three skyscrapers and an architecturally audacious transit hub have been built on land that was a disaster zone when he last saw it.
“I’ve got mixed emotions, but I’m still kind of numb,” said Johnson, a police chief in Pennsylvania. “I think everyone needs closure, and this is my time to have closure.”